Average benefits for the food stamp program are set to rise $36 from prepandemic levels, a record increase of more than 25 percent, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The jump in benefits for all 42 million people in the program, which is to be announced Monday and implemented in October, comes after the Biden administration revised the initiative’s nutrition standards that supporters insist will reduce hunger and better reflect how people actually eat.
The move does not require approval from Congress.
Critics say that the costs, an increase of some $20 billion annually from prepandemic levels, are unsustainable and that the aid lessens the willingness of people to work.
The change is based on updates the Department of Agriculture made to the Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost of an economical, nutritious diet. Its value was established in 1962 and, other than being adjusted for inflation, had not grown since then, despite vast differences over the years in what Americans eat.
The basis of the change is a law passed by Congress in 2018 ordering a review of the plan within four years, which President Joe Biden asked the Department of Agriculture to accelerate upon entering the White House.
Opponents of a benefit increase say the program is meant to supply only part, not all, of a household’s diet, as suggested by its formal name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Critics also claim that the aid would last longer if the needy spent it better, citing research that shows almost 10% is spent on sweetened drinks.
But Elaine Waxman of the Urban Institute recently found that the maximum aid could not buy a modest diet in 96% of counties in the U.S.
Under the new plan, officials used a broader price index than the one that had relied only on the poor.
Dr. Hilary Seligman, who studies nutritional aid at the University of California, San Francisco, said an increase in the program would significantly improve health, insisting that “this may be the most important change in the half-century history of the modern program.”
But others note that nothing guarantees that the needy will buy healthy food with the increased aid.
Angela Rachidi of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that “to the extent that SNAP contributes to poor diet,” an increase could even harm poor people’s health.
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