The Institute for Research on Policy hosted a webinar on April 5, 2023 titled “Expanded SNAP Benefits During The COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned.” Speakers for the event included Dr. Cindy Leung, Professor of Public Health at Harvard University; Chloe Green, Senior Policy Associate with the American Public Health Services Association (APHSA); and Dr. Marianne Bitler, Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of California.
The webinar highlighted the impact the end of the COVID-19 federal public health emergency (PHE) will have on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Set to end May 11, 2023, the PHE has been providing Emergency Allotments that increased benefits for SNAP recipients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed states to provide emergency SNAP benefits to all households enrolled up to the maximum monthly benefit amount. Households with the lowest incomes (those already receiving the maximum benefit) received an additional $95 a month. The end of the PHE will cause SNAP households to experience a loss in benefits of approximately $80 per person per month, which translates to a 33% decrease. APHSA listed out the following ways that states are supporting customers during this transition period:
- Using State Budgets to Increase SNAP Benefits: NJ, CA, and MD have raised minimum benefits or will in the near future, and MA passed a bill to fund a step-down SNAP benefit for all at the end of emergency allotments
- Investing in Modern Technology to Improve Customer Experience: States are investing in tools to support self-service tools and make it easier to update information on one’s phone or computer
- Increasing Outreach and Supporting Alignment Across Medicaid and SNAP: As Medicaid unwinding takes place, programs are working together to support clients.
Dr. Leung pointed out that “food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Households with children experience food insecurity more than households without dependents, and these households are predominantly single-parent and of Black and Hispanic ethnicity. Food insecurity can lead to chronic stress and have health impacts that cause early onset puberty, diabetes, chronic conditions, and complications. Consequences for children can also include increased developmental risk, absence from school, mental health and behavioral issues, and lower mental and motor development.
Food insecurity is a significant topic that must be seriously addressed by both federal and state governments. Many respondents to a survey detailed by Dr. Leung reported that food is not a one-off expense, and they need constant assistance with the cost. National levels of food insecurity did not spike during the pandemic due to the policies and emergency allotments passed under COVID legislation, like the American Rescue Plan. The loss of SNAP benefits can and will negatively impact individuals and families.
By Erin Weiss and Maya Benysh, Policy Interns