The United States is currently witnessing millions of its citizens standing at the brink of a hunger crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in 2020, exposed the fragile state of the country’s social safety net and revealed that millions of families were slipping through the cracks. SNAP Experts predicted that hunger rates would escalate similarly to what occurred during the Great Recession.
Contrary to expectations, hunger rates did not soar during the pandemic in the United States. This was due to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP being expanded, which provided millions of Americans with the means to feed themselves during an unparalleled public health and economic crisis. The program’s “emergency allotments” made food more accessible, and eligibility was extended to more people. As a result, hunger rates remained stable during the emergency, and poverty rates even decreased.
Possible consequences of SNAP benefit reductions
Regrettably, the temporary increase in food assistance came to an end last Wednesday as Congress failed to make it a permanent solution. This termination coincided with other pandemic support measures such as the expanded Child Tax Credit, eviction moratoria, and Medicaid expansions ending, as well as an increase in food prices. Consequently, millions of American families are now at risk of experiencing hunger.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays a critical role in the United States by preventing hunger for a quarter of the country’s children. It also aids six million elderly adults with fixed incomes, four million non-elderly disabled individuals, and over one million low-income veterans. The program predominantly assists people with earned income who do not receive cash welfare benefits.
What are SNAP benefits and why are they so important for families?
SNAP is a program that provides food for Americans of all races and residing in every zip code. During the pandemic, the SNAP expansion effectively reduced disparities in food security among different racial and ethnic groups, despite white individuals being the majority of beneficiaries. Moreover, SNAP participation is highest in rural areas and small towns.
The discontinuation of SNAP benefits will result in children, workers, and vulnerable elderly individuals losing an average of $90 per month. This decrease in assistance will translate to a reduction in daily food aid from an average of $9.00 per person per day to an average of $6.10 per person per day.
The revised Thrifty Food Plan by the Department of Agriculture provides some relief to families benefiting from SNAP. However, conservatives in Congress have set their sights on this program, and if they succeed in undoing the Biden administration’s update, the assistance provided could decrease even further to just $4.75 per day. It would be a daunting challenge for anyone to maintain a healthy diet on a budget of $6 per day, let alone less than $5.
How SNAP benefits impact the U.S. family economy
The impact of the cuts will be particularly severe for elderly Americans. Seniors who were previously eligible for only minimal benefits prior to the pandemic emergency allotments now face the most significant risk of hunger. Their monthly allotment will plummet from $281 to a mere $23 per month, which amounts to only about 75 cents per day. These unjustified and distressing cuts will weaken one of the United States’ most successful programs aimed at reducing poverty and hunger.
Recent data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reveals that the extended SNAP benefits provided during the pandemic contributed to a 10% reduction in overall poverty and a 14% decrease in child poverty in the last quarter of 2021. Research also shows that students who receive adequate SNAP benefits perform better academically, have higher graduation rates, and enjoy lifelong employment success. Moreover, the health of all SNAP beneficiaries improves with adequate access to nutritious food.