Approximately every five years, Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill, a large piece of legislation that authorizes most federal policies governing food and agriculture programs. The farm bill consists of 12 “titles”, covering topics such as conservation, rural development, and forestry. Title 4, the nutrition title, includes SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2023, and Congress has already begun holding hearings and listening sessions around the Farm Bill - the first step in the reauthorization process.
At the Coalition Against Hunger, we know that SNAP is the cornerstone of the nation’s nutrition and food security safety net, helping to put food on the table each month for 42 million low-income participants nationally and serving 1.9 million Pennsylvania families. SNAP has been proven to:
- Decrease poverty and food insecurity
- Improve health and education outcomes for participants
- Support the economy and quickly respond to crises such as disasters and economic downturns
SNAP is a crucial support for millions of American families, including children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. Above all, SNAP must be protected from additional restrictions in the upcoming Farm Bill. Additionally, there are many ways that SNAP could be improved to better support low-income families. See how we are asking Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP in the upcoming Farm Bill.
1. Protecting and Strengthening SNAP Benefits
Thrifty Food Plan Re-evaluation: The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is the government food plan on which SNAP benefit amounts are based. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress directed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to re-evaluate the TFP every five years. The first re-evaluation, which went into effect in October 2021, brought the TFP in line with updated nutrition guidance, in sync with foods that families actually eat, and consistent with the realities of time-strapped families. In other words, the re-evaluation brought the TFP in line with the realities of eating healthy on a very low budget in America today. The re-evaluation resulted in an average increase of 21% to benefit amounts and has been crucial in helping families put food on the table. The re-evaluations of the Thrifty Food Plan must be protected.
Low-Cost Food Plan: Even with the updated TFP, monthly benefit amounts for SNAP participants are still too low. Additionally, the Thrifty Food Plan is lower than the food cost estimates used in other government programs. For example, The Low-Cost Food Plan is used by bankruptcy courts. Adopting the Low-Cost Food Plan, which is approximately ⅓ higher than the TFP, as the basis for SNAP would more adequately reflect the actual costs of a healthy diet.
2. Protecting and Increasing Access to SNAP
SNAP Time Limit: The SNAP eligibility time limit restricts many working-age adults without dependents to only three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they can document sufficient hours of work. This harsh restriction takes food off of the table for families without any evidence that it increases employment or earnings. Despite this, there is some discussion around expanding the SNAP time limit rule. For example, the debt ceiling bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, would expand the time limit to include individuals aged 50-55. This harsh rule should not be increased or expanded in any way, and Congress should work to pass a farm bill that limits or eliminates this rule.
Access for Immigrants: Many lawfully present immigrants are currently unable to receive SNAP due to an arbitrary five-year waiting period. This “five-year bar” harms immigrant families, including millions of children, and exacerbates long standing racial inequalities. The five-year bar should be eliminated and all lawfully present immigrants should be eligible for SNAP.
College Student Rules: In addition to income and other rules, college students need to document sufficient hours of work or meet an exemption to receive SNAP. These rules are counterproductive, undermine student success, and are based on outdated assumptions about who is pursuing a college degree in 2023. These unfair restrictions should be eliminated, and SNAP should be accessible to low-income college students.
Drug felony Ban: Under federal SNAP rules, people with prior drug felony convictions are barred from receiving SNAP. Although Pennsylvania does not currently choose to apply this rule, its existence makes re-entry and recovery from drug addiction much harder. The drug felony ban should be repealed.
Public Health Emergency Ending
Next Thursday May 11, the Federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19 will expire. The PHE allowed for many important flexibilities that have helped people stay connected to crucial resources since January of 2020. Some of these flexibilities, like SNAP Emergency Allotments, have already ended ahead of the PHE due to federal legislation. Other flexibilities, such as the expanded eligibility for college students, will phase out once the Public Health Emergency ends. Additionally, there will be changes to other COVID-19 related flexibilities and policies, such as the requirement that private insurers cover the cost of COVID-19 tests.
SNAP Emergency Allotments - Share Your Story
If you are a current or former SNAP participant who has been impacted by the loss of Emergency Allotments, the extra SNAP payments that people were getting to help with food costs during the pandemic, we want to hear from you. We are teaming up with anti-hunger organizations across the state to collect stories from those who have been impacted by the loss of this extra SNAP. Hearing what people are experiencing will help make the case to state and federal legislators that SNAP benefits need to be increased. This is a critical opportunity to communicate to our elected officials about the importance of SNAP and why it should be expanded or strengthened. If you are a SNAP participant who experienced the loss of Emergency Allotments, consider sharing your story with us and joining the group of statewide anti-hunger advocates working to defend and strengthen SNAP.