HARRISBURG — Food stamp recipients are in for a pleasant surprise — a boost in their benefits is on the way.
Community Legal Services, based in Philadelphia, sued last summer to stop a move by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Trump Administration that would have limited who could get a bump in the food stamp benefit included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020.
As part of the settlement in that lawsuit, Pennsylvania will get an additional $712 million to boost food stamp benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Department of Human Services senior advisor Teresa Miller said Thursday.
The boost in food stamp benefits will help relieve strain on the state’s network of food banks, which are still seeing an increase in demand of about 20% for services compared to the pre-COVID period, said Jane Clements-Smith, executive director of Feeding Pennsylvania.
“There are still unemployed and underemployed people,” Clements-Smith said. As business restrictions relax and more people have been able to return to work, “it’s getting better,” but hunger advocates expect that the increase in demand will be remain high through at least the rest of 2021, she said.
Food banks tend to see an increase in requests for help closer to the end of each month as families that depend on food stamps find themselves running out of those benefits, she said. As a result, the move to increase the food stamp benefit will help the food banks as they brace for the ongoing need.
Under the court agreement, families that have been getting less than the maximum food stamp monthly benefit will now get the maximum benefit — $616 a month for a family of three. Families already receiving the maximum benefit will get 50% of the maximum benefit on top of their normal payment for April.
“Hope is ahead, but there is still great need in our communities. If you or someone you know could use a hand, please let us try to help so we can emerge from this crisis together," Miller said.
The new aid comes as the SNAP program has seen increased enrollment due to the pandemic, Miller said. Enrollment in SNAP is still up by 66,723 people compared to February 2020, even though the number of people receiving food stamps has been decreasing since it peaked in September, she said.
Miller said that recent research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “11% of adults in February said their household hadn’t gotten enough to eat in the last week,” and that 10 million children live in homes where there isn’t enough food. That’s nine times the number of children who were living in food-insecure homes before the pandemic, she said.
“Over 650,000 households in Pennsylvania—including seniors, people with disabilities and families with children—will finally be getting the extra SNAP they were previously denied. The pandemic has greatly increased hunger, and this will help parents put food on the table for their children,” said Louise Hayes, supervising attorney at Community Legal Services, in announcing the settlement.
Miller said state officials want residents who receive food stamp benefits to be aware that the increase is on the way so they recognize “these additional payments are not coming in error,” she said.
Moving forward, these households will begin to receive a regular monthly emergency allotment so long as Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration, which is required to authorize emergency allotments, remains in place.
“These emergency allotments are a lifeline that keeps our most basic need on the table and helps businesses, food retailers and producers, and our local economies through these challenging times,” said Miller.
“This federally-funded food assistance is a critical investment in our communities’ ability to endure and recover from the challenges of this pandemic – challenges that can have a long-term impact on the health and well-being of our communities. Because of the disaster declaration, we do not have to forfeit this critical federal funding that helps so many each month," she said.