Food stamp benefits to permanently expand by over 25% in October, USDA announces

Food stamps sign in New York on Dec. 5, 2019. The Biden administration on Monday announced a permanent expansion of the food stamps program of more than 25% beginning in October 2021.

Food stamps sign in New York on Dec. 5, 2019. The Biden administration on Monday announced a permanent expansion of the food stamps program of more than 25% beginning in October 2021.

Needy families will get a permanent boost to their food stamps benefits in October under an expansion of the program announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will increase benefits for about 42 million program participants by more than 25% after finishing a review that determined existing benefits are too low to pay for a healthy diet.

The increase kicks in on Oct. 1, when beneficiaries in what is officially known as the SNAP program will receive an average bump of about $36.24 per month, the agency announced Monday.

In the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average monthly benefit was hovering around $121 per person, according to the Agriculture Department. That soared in 2020 and 2021, as Congress passed spending measures meant to aid in the pandemic recovery.

Those benefit expansions were temporary measures, but the increase announced Monday is a permanent adjustment.

Thrifty Food Plan change is first in over a decade

While benefits have increased along with inflation, the USDA said this adjustment represents the first expansion of its purchasing power since it was first introduced in 1975.

The cost of those benefits will increase by nearly $20 billion to about $92.2 billion.

Benefits will increase after a review of what the USDA calls the Thrifty Food Plan. Congress directed the review in its 2018 Farm Bill, and President Joe Biden called for an expansion of benefits in an executive order signed shortly after taking office.

It was last updated in 2006.

“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition – it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a prepared statement. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”

Current food prices, the American diet, dietary guidance and nutrition in food items were considered in the review.

Plan based on ‘market basket’ of common foods

The cost of healthful foods was the most frequently cited barrier for SNAP participants to eat a healthy diet, according to an Agriculture department study. SNAP households exhaust about three-quarters of their benefits by the middle of the month, according to a USDA report released in 2020.

The Thrifty Food Plan is based on a “market basket” of commonly consumed food and beverages for a family of four, with the cost of that basket driving the benefit. Benefit adjustments before the one announced Monday were to be “cost neutral,” but the 2018 bill approved by a Republican Congress did not put that constraint on the re-evaluation it called for every five years beginning in 2022.

Biden’s executive order sped up the review, which prompted changes to the market basket of goods and their costs. The changes are based on updated dietary guidelines for nutrition.

The cost of the basket was determined to be $835.57 a month, with proteins and vegetables accounting for nearly half of the cost.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a prepared statement that existing benefits were too low to pay for a healthy diet.

“Today is a day of great progress for struggling families across the nation, who will soon see a permanent and substantial increase to their monthly SNAP benefits for the first time ever. Thanks to the Biden Administration strengthening this important lifeline, parents will be able to afford healthy food for their families and children will not have to go to bed hungry,” she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden administration boosts food stamp benefits by 25% in October