SNAP benefits temporarily expanded for families, higher education students impacted by pandemic

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ Prostock-Studio
Source: Getty/ Prostock-Studio

Related tags SNAP food insecurity hunger

The US Departments of Agriculture and Education are making it easier for Americans suffering food insecurity due to the pandemic to put food on the table by temporarily increasing and expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

USDA made official yesterday, March 22, the much vaunted 15% increase to SNAP benefits through September 2021 as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill​, which the administration says will invest more than $12 billion in nutrition assistance.

The temporary SNAP increase will provide roughly $3.5 billion overall or about $28 more per beneficiary per month in additional benefits, which research shows will double as a “powerful”​ economic stimulus because the benefits often are immediately spent in local economies, according to USDA.

The plan also earmarks an additional $25 million to help USDA expand online purchasing and mobile payments using SNAP so that beneficiaries can order and pay for groceries online – a move that will improve safety during the pandemic and make it easier for people in rural areas or with physical limitations, according to the administration.

To help states as they respond to increased demand for SNAP benefits, the American Rescue Plan also will make $1.135 billion available for administrative resources over the next three years, which states will not have to match.

Other measures include extending through the summer the pandemic EBT program, as announced earlier this month, which gives families additional benefits to help cover the cost of meals children would have received for free or at reduced price at school if classes were in session.

Another $1 billion in capped block grans will go to Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Norther Marina Islands and American Samoa to provide nutritional assistance to families hit hard by the pandemic.

SNAP benefits expand to cover more higher education students

In collaboration with USDA and in response to Biden’s Jan. 22 executive order​ to provide pandemic relief, the US Department of Education March 19 instructed postsecondary institutions to reach out to students who may be eligible for SNAP benefits under temporarily expanded rules.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily expands SNAP benefits to students who qualify for state or federally funded work study during the regular academic year or have an expected family contribution of zero in the current academic year, including those eligible for a maximum Pell Grant.

These temporary exemptions expand access to SNAP benefits, which previously were not available to students enrolled at least half-time in a higher-education institute. The exemptions will be in place through 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted, according to the department.

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