The Hunger Cliff: Slashed SNAP Benefits Push Millions of Americans Over the Edge
As March begins and many of us look forward to spring weather or longer days, millions of Americans are facing significant slashes to life-saving food assistance because pandemic extensions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) expired on March 1. Where early pandemic boosts blunted dramatic plunges into hunger, millions now find themselves being pushed off a cliff, the depths of which remain to be seen.
During COVID-19, the federal government moved with relative speed to strengthen and build on existing safety nets. While more could have been done, the policy achievements prevented millions of Americans from falling into deep poverty and hunger. In 2021, the enhanced Child Tax Credit (CTC) lifted 5.3 million people, including 2.9 million children, out of poverty in just months — childhood poverty rates declined by 30%. An estimated 65% of CTC payments were spent on food. When the Senate failed to extend the enhanced CTC, these families were left to struggle to put food on the table again.
SNAP, our nation’s strongest anti-hunger safety net, also expanded dramatically. Thanks to emergency boosts in benefits, the average household began receiving hundreds of extra SNAP dollars. However, in December, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law an omnibus package that ended pandemic-era boosts to 20 million households’ monthly SNAP benefits after February 2023. As our country continues to face rising inflation and deepening economic uncertainty, these families will see their monthly food assistance drop on average by $82 per person. Single-person households could see their monthly benefits drop by over $250, with some now qualifying for only the minimum benefit of $23 per month. Combined, the benefits slashed from SNAP will total $2.9 billion monthly.
Every family is different, but our need for healthy and nutritious food is universal. While SNAP boosts represented a significant increase in monthly food assistance for millions of households, even these increases were inadequate. Data for January 2023 showed that 30.5% of SNAP households benefiting from these boosts still had to skip meals to make ends meet. With 20 million SNAP households losing the increased pandemic benefits this month, we know that food insecurity among these households will rise again.
But SNAP is an investment in families, in their health, and in their economic well being. Economists at USDA estimate that for every $1.00 a SNAP participant spends at their local retailer, they generate $1.50 of economic activity. There is also a strong link between SNAP benefits and job creation in rural communities and the agricultural sector. Data shows that we can grow our economy from the bottom up when we invest in our families, tackle poverty, and make the playing field fairer and more equitable. The 2023 Farm Bill, one of the largest pieces of legislation which reauthorizes federal nutrition assistance programs including SNAP, presents a unique opportunity to advance long-overdue policy solutions.
We know that pandemic-era supports dramatically and meaningfully responded to the economic and public health disaster, but much work remains to fully address old and new challenges.
Please join MAZON in urging Congress to extend the boosts to SNAP to more fully meet the needs of all those facing hunger.