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Biden pumps up food benefits

SNAP gets the biggest increase in the history of U.S. food stamps


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack holds up a SNAP EBT card at the White House. Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci (file)

Biden pumps up food benefits

Jocelyn Brisson grew up on food stamps. When she was 18, she applied for her own benefits card. She stayed in the program for the next 30 years, sometimes trading her card for cash to buy drugs or cigarettes. When Brisson became a Christian at the Watered Gardens homeless shelter in Joplin, Mo., (WORLD’s 2019 Hope Awards winner), the staff encouraged her to support herself through work and let the church help her, if needed. Brisson was nervous to give up the government support: “[Food stamps] had always been my security blanket, because that was kind of all I knew,” she said. Now she is the shelter director and coaches others to stop relying on government benefits.

“Now I know as an independent woman, I’m capable of doing that, and the sky’s the limit,” she said. “I can do anything I want.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, provides monthly assistance to more than 42 million Americans. President Donald Trump sent the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on a mission to trim the program’s costs and focus the help on those who needed it most. Now President Joe Biden’s administration is giving SNAP the biggest boost in the program’s history. Some praise the move as long overdue, but others say it improperly bypassed Congress and comes with unintended consequences.

On Aug. 16, the USDA unveiled its Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to calculate how much a family of four would spend on groceries. The government developed the plan (originally called the Economy Food Plan) in 1962 and since then left it largely the same besides adjusting for inflation.

In recent years, critics complained SNAP recipients couldn’t afford healthy food at today’s prices. The program pays an average of $138 per person, per month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Research by the USDA showed that SNAP households spent most of their benefits within the first two weeks of the month.

Critics also argued that the plan was unrealistic: It assumed families had no food allergies, bought only the cheapest brands, and spent an unreasonable amount of time preparing food at home. The 2018 farm bill included a provision requiring the USDA to update the plan using specific criteria by 2022 and subsequently every five years.

In August, Biden’s USDA researchers announced the results of their revision. They used healthy diet recommendations and Americans’ consumption patterns to produce what they said was a workable, affordable, and nutritious monthly grocery plan. The plan is broken into food categories like meat, poultry, dairy, and sweets, and it estimates how many pounds of each the family members need per week. The new plan added calories to the previous iteration. But the biggest change was the plan’s 21 percent cost increase: It now budgets an average of $36.24 more per person per month. The increase will take effect Oct. 1.

Democrats have worked to expand the SNAP program for years. During the pandemic, they seized reports of increased hunger in the United States as evidence of the program’s inadequacy. Pandemic legislation streamlined the process to claim SNAP benefits, removed restrictions on SNAP families, and increased the benefits amount by 15 percent. Those changes were temporary; the increase from the Thrifty Food Plan will be permanent.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Angela Rachidi said such a significant increase in SNAP funds should have happened through Congress. The increase was “the direct result of arbitrary decisions made by USDA researchers and executive staff—all done without congressional scrutiny and absent public comment,” she wrote. “Administrative policy has always been to conduct the reevaluation [of the Thrifty Food Plan] within the current cost constraints of SNAP.”

More importantly, Rachidi warned that more SNAP benefits could discourage recipients from work, the No. 1 thing that lifts families out of poverty and provides the dignity of independence from government support, as Jocelyn Brisson learned. “Research shows that benefit-eligible households worked less after the introduction of the Food Stamp Program in the 1970s,” Rachidi wrote. “Thus, it is reasonable to expect that increasing the SNAP benefit by such a large amount will make work less attractive to low-income households.”


Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas.

@CharissaKoh

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CHUR8560

Ultimately, the best and strongest system is where those who can support themselves do, and only those who need it would receive help. Your actions to support your family are heroic, you should be proud of them for many reasons.

Yes by rights your life would have been easier to work little and receive benefits, and the system says its ok to do that. We live within a broken system and imperfect people. If everyone, or even most people begin to live on this easy system, the system itself will collapse. In many ways I see our society moving toward that. Our country already cannot sustain our current budget. I would not want to contribute to that, even if its harder to do the right thing.

In the end we do need change both the system and the hearts of the people in order to truly help people out of poverty.

OldMike

My wife and I probably have been eligible for food stamps (now the SNAP program) a few times but we’ve never applied. Neither of us have ever received unemployment benefits either, even though we’ve both had periods of unemployment. I’ve always worked blue-collar jobs, she’s worked in very poorly paid ministry positions.

But now, the way the government is pushing so many people to become dependent on gov’t benefits, I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Have I deprived my family, working a lot of extra hours in order to pay for some extras for our lifestyle, but paying more in taxes to support those who won’t work those extra hours, or maybe work at all? Maybe we should have taken food stamps and I should have spent more hours with my family instead of in a factory.

A few years ago, I asked a younger guy in my church—who drove a school bus every weekday about 5 hours—what he did at the school to give him enough hours for a full-time check. He scoffed. “I don’t WANT to work full-time, I would lose my benefits.” That made me mad but also made me think. Have others provided for their families better because they weren’t as prideful as I am?

Now my wife and I are retired on rather modest Social Security and we get by on it. But as I look at inflation bringing alarming price increases, and gov’t give-away programs that surely will bring higher taxes, I think maybe I should stick my cup under that open tap too. When we say we believe the Lord provides for us, are we ignoring some of His Provision by means of gov’t programs?

Steve Dossin

Appreciate the comments at the end about Food Stamps discouraging work. I worked in stewardship ministry. See http://www.living-the-abundant-life.org. Talking to a single mother trying to help her make ends meet, I asked if she had any possibility of advancement at her work. Her reply was that she had already turned down raises to avoid losing Food Stamps. That got me doing research on government benefits, which showed me how little benefit is available for working at some income levels. That led to the ideas that became the ComingTogether Plan. See http://www.comingtogether.info/ for details on this plan that proposes covering basic expenses for all citizens without the means testing and high tax rates that discourage work.

FIMIKISteve Dossin

I really, really like proposals like this. They're compassionate, efficient, and remove all the perverse incentives that come with cutting off benefits at certain thresholds. The rising popularity of UBI is an indication that there's some appetite for this. My only worry is if a one-size fits all approach is realistic for a nation as diverse as ours. The cost of living in San Francisco is obviously very different from rural Oklahoma. Perhaps if states and cities could contribute to the benefits residents, that would help.

Steve DossinFIMIKI

I agree. High cost states would probably want to supplement the national benefits. (This could certainly be handled through the federal system for the distribution of benefits for the sake of efficiency assuming the supplements were distributed on the same basis as the national benefits.) The federal government should not subsidize state and local jurisdictions where the taxes and policies lead to higher cost of living.