This month, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will get a boost, but eligibility requirements have changed.
The new rules, which went into effect Oct. 1, stipulate that able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 52 and 54 will have to prove that they are actively working, training, or in school. Before, those between the ages of 18 and 52 had to prove they are working at least 80 hours per month, in school, or involved in a training program to get the SNAP benefits.
The age requirement was expanded as part of the debt ceiling deal that was passed in Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. The age requirement will expand by another year in October 2024, while the new requirements will be in effect until Oct. 1, 2030.
With the recent changes, the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warned that more than 750,000 “older adults” are at risk of losing SNAP benefits due to the “expansion of the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement.” The requirements initiated under the debt ceiling deal were the largest changes made to the SNAP, or food stamps, in decades.
“The expansion of this requirement would take food assistance away from large numbers of people, including many who have serious barriers to employment as well as others who are working or should be exempt but are caught up in red tape,” it said.
It was part of a deal between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) several months ago. At the time, Mr. McCarthy said that “what work requirements actually do [is to] help people get a job.”
Republicans have tried for decades to expand work requirements for these government assistance programs, arguing they result in more people returning to the workforce. “We’re going to return these programs to being a life vest, not a lifestyle. A hand up, not a handout and that has always been the American way,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters in June.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson told The Hill that there are some exceptions to the new requirements. They include veterans, homeless people, and people aged 18 to 24 who aged out of foster care situations, the spokesperson said.
Those who have a mental or physical limitation, have a child aged 18 or younger living in their home, or pregnant women are also exempt, the spokesperson added.
At the same time, individuals who already get SNAP and still qualify will see their benefits increase starting Oct. 1, said the USDA. Benefit changes for SNAP are based on the Consumer Price Index that measures inflation for June 2022.
“The maximum allotments will increase for the 48 states and D.C., Alaska, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the agency said.
“The maximum allotment for a family of four in the 48 states and D.C., will be $973,” and allotments “for a family of four will range from $1,248 to $1,937 in Alaska,” while “maximum allotments for a family of four in Hawaii will decrease to $1,759.
The minimum benefit for all 48 states and the District of Columbia will stay the same at $23, according to the USDA.
The average family started receiving about $90 less per month in March, although some households dropped by up to $250, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Last month, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) warned that the food stamp program is losing some $1 billion per month due to errors and fraud as she announced legislation designed to deal with the alleged monthly losses.
“Families across the country are going hungry while bureaucrats are jumping the line to gobble up SNAP dollars, either as a meal ticket to beef up state budgets or a self-serve buffet of benefits for themselves or others who do not qualify,” the senator said.
“I’m snapping back! It’s time for states at fault to pay the piper and eat the costs of their taxpayer waste. Instead of overserving bureaucrats, let’s end the waste and set a place at the table for hungry families,” Ms. Ernst added.
Earlier this year, the federal government ended its public health emergency over COVID-19, which ended a booster program for all SNAP recipients. The duration of those extra payments was originally tied directly to the duration of the public health emergency, but that was changed in December 2022 and the final pandemic-boosted SNAP payments went out at the end of February.
The emergency program was enacted by Congress at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and expanded a year later. Originally, the extra benefits were intended to continue as long as the COVID-19 public health emergency was in force before it expired.
SNAP benefits can rise and fall with inflation and other factors. Maximum benefits went up by 12 percent in October to reflect an annual cost-of-living adjustment boosted by higher prices for foods and other goods. But payments went down for those who also receive Social Security because of the 8.7 percent cost-of-living increase in that program on Jan 1.