Strengthening SNAP in the 2013 Farm Bill

Strengthening SNAP is important because the program is critical to struggling households and to the nation and its economy. When the national economy or a regional, state or area economy is in trouble, the program is among the most effective government responses. It reacts quickly and robustly when economic or natural disasters strike.

SNAP is very important and very effective, but its reach is undermined by gaps in access and
the inadequacy of program benefits as well as by administrative burdens.

Steps that Congress can take to address benefit adequacy include:

  • Restore ARRA SNAP benefit boosts that were sunset prematurely by Congress;
  • Adjust benefit amounts in a timely manner; while the benefit allotment is adjusted for inflation each year, the increases come only after a time lag, so the allotment reflects not current prices but the prices of the (already inadequate) Thrifty Food Plan from between four and 16 months earlier;
  • Increase the minimum benefit ($16 per month under the ARRA boost) so that elderly households receive at least an amount that is equivalent in value to the floor set in the 1970s;
  • Fully allow SNAP benefits to be adjusted when high housing costs consume more of a family’s income; and
  • Improve earnings disregards and other benefit computation rules.

In addition to steps to improve benefits, other changes are important to help reach more households in need. Congress should:

  • Extend the program to needy people now excluded from benefits by arbitrary eligibility rules, including by restoring eligibility to all legal immigrants, dropping the lifetime ban on benefits for drug felons who are making a new start in society, and removing time limits on receipt of SNAP by certain jobless adults seeking work;
  • Allow all states to operate the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) CAP model that seamlessly enrolls SSI recipients into SNAP, and encourage other data matching initiatives;
  • Provide adequate resources to states and community partners for administration of SNAP and outreach and nutrition education (these should include restoring a greater federal share in administrative expenses and enhanced federal matches for state investments in operational improvements); and
  • Promote increased access by low-income people to nutritious food in neighborhoods, including by fostering development of supermarkets and outlets in “food deserts,” and by equipping all farmers’ markets with EBT capability.