April 22, 2022
With Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits taken into account, SNAP benefit redemptions topped $125 billion in FY 2021, according to new data from USDA. That represented a 61 percent increase over the prior year.
|The Distribution of SNAP Benefit Redemptions
Superstores and supermarkets: Over 79 percent of SNAP benefits.
Online SNAP Retail: Online SNAP purchasing, which was piloted in New York in 2019 , expanded nationwide during the pandemic. In FY 2021, nearly 4 percent of SNAP redemptions were through SNAP retailers participating in the online pilot.
Farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmer outlets constituted less than 1 percent of total SNAP redemptions, but the $58 million in SNAP sales had increased by 79 percent over FY 2019.
State by State Redemptions: The USDA annual retailer report also reports state-by-state aggregate data on SNAP authorized retailers and benefits redeemed.
The Impact of SNAP Benefits During COVID-19
The new retailer redemptions data underscore the important impact SNAP, temporary boosts to SNAP, and P-EBT have been having on mitigating food hardship and boosting economic activity during COVID-19.
As an entitlement program, SNAP is structured to expand in times of greater need. SNAP participation in FY 2021 averaged 41.5 million persons, up by nearly 5.8 million persons over the pre-pandemic year FY 2019.
The anti-recessionary effects of SNAP are enhanced when benefits are boosted, such as during the Great Recession and COVID-19. In FY 2021, SNAP Emergency Allotments (EAs) brought most SNAP households up to at least to the maximum benefit level; moreover, all SNAP households received a 15 percent boost in benefits from January 2021 through September 21. Together, the increased SNAP caseloads as well as COVID-19 benefit provisions contributed to a more than doubling of the level of SNAP redemptions in FY 2021 ($125 billion) compared with FY 2019 ($55.6 billion).
Given that each $1 in SNAP benefits during a downturn generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity, FRAC estimates the economic impact of SNAP and P-EBT benefits in FY 2021 at between $187.5 billion and $225 billion.
Urge Congress to Take Immediate Action
Unless Congress takes action, however, SNAP retail redemptions could see a precipitous drop in coming months. SNAP EAs — issued again in April 2022 in 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands — will end whenever the HHS COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration expires. Recently, the PHE was extended into July 2022. Whenever the PHE ends, most SNAP participants, on average, will lose $82 a person a month in SNAP benefits. The average SNAP benefit will fall to about a mere $5.40 a person a day.
Charitable food assistance can hardly fill such a significant food gap. For every one meal that food banks provide, SNAP provides nine meals. All parts of the food chain—from farmers and food manufacturers, to truckers, grocers, and store clerks– are likely to feel the economic impact of the precipitous and steep reduction in SNAP redemption amounts.
Now is the time for policymakers to avert a “hunger cliff,” by extending the PHE while conditions warrant, by providing a transition period to regular benefits, and by making permanent improvements in SNAP benefit adequacy, equitable access, and good customer service.
Join FRAC in urging Members of Congress to support a Strengthen SNAP Agenda.