The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped individuals and families keep food on their table and avoid hunger during this time of national crisis. When the pandemic and ensuing recession hit in the spring, SNAP responded swiftly. For more information about SNAP’s early response to the pandemic, see our blog post here.
But difficult times have continued for Montana families. In late January, nearly 56,000 adults in Montana lived in households reporting sometimes or often not having enough food to eat. For households with children, one in ten sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the past week.
Below, we break down the recent proposed and enacted changes to SNAP that can help alleviate hardship for struggling households.
In December, Congress passed a COVID relief package which included a variety of relief measures to people facing job loss, poverty, and hunger.
Change to SNAP: The COVID relief package included a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 2021.
Who this helps: Back in April, USDA granted states waivers to allow them to issue the “emergency allotments” – the maximum SNAP benefit for their household size.
But this change left out or only marginally benefited 39,000 Montanans on SNAP, including 15,000 children, who had no or extremely low any income. These families were already receiving the maximum or close to the maximum SNAP allotment, and still facing increased hardship due to the pandemic.
A 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits will result in $27 more per person. With hunger still a major problem across the country, increasing SNAP benefits for all households – especially those who are struggling the most – will help lift people out of hunger and extreme poverty.
Change to SNAP: College students who are eligible for work study or have an expected family contribution of $0 and are enrolled at least half-time in an institution are eligible for SNAP.
Who this helps: Under regular SNAP rules, only college students who were currently participating in a work study program were eligible for SNAP. With classes and schools moving to remote instruction, work study positions may be difficult to obtain for some eligible for students. This rule change will help reduce hunger for students.
In January, President Biden issued several executive actions that will help relieve hunger and hardship for Montana families.
Change to SNAP: President Biden directed the USDA to increase Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) benefits by 15 percent.
Who this helps: The P-EBT program provides families who would normally be receiving free and reduced-price meals at school with the equivalent dollar value ($5.70 a day) when schools are closed.
While schools have mostly re-opened across the state, many families are still facing part-time schedules and occasional school closures. An increase in P-EBT benefits would help reduce the high rates of childhood food insecurity Montana is facing right now.
Unfortunately, Montana has yet to be approved for P-EBT for the 20/21 school year. Montana should act soon to ensure that families who have been struggling with school closures can get the help they need.
Change to SNAP: President Biden directed the USDA to emergency allotments for households who were already receiving the maximum SNAP allotment.
Who this helps: As mentioned earlier, households living on extremely low incomes did not receive any increase in benefits during the first round of SNAP changes. The original stimulus plan failed to support the 37 percent of SNAP households nationwide who were already receiving the maximum allotment. Emergency allotments would help these most vulnerable households.
Change to SNAP: President Biden directed the USDA to revise the Thrifty Food Plan, as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill.
Who this helps: The Thrifty Food Plan is the basis the USDA uses to calculate SNAP benefits. But the plan is outdated – it assumes that families have more time than they do to prepare food, that affordable food is always available, does not account for special dietary needs, and does not reflect the full cost of a healthy diet. Updating the plan will help provide more accurate benefits to households.
Congress is currently considering more relief packages to help aid people struggling with poverty and hunger.
Change to SNAP: President Biden’s proposed American Rescue Plan would extend the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September.
Who this helps: Economic recovery from this crisis will not happen immediately. SNAP is one of our best forms of economic stimulus, by not only helping people put food on their table but by supporting local stores and the agricultural community as well.
SNAP is a vital lifeline for struggling Montanans. If we are to recover from this crisis, we must provide much ensure that everyone has access to affordable food when they need it.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.