By ASHRAF KHALIL and JOSH BOAK
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration has approved a significant and permanent increase in the levels of food aid available to needy families — the largest single increase in the program’s history.
Starting in October, average benefits for food stamps — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — will rise more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The increased assistance will be available indefinitely to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries.
The increase coincides with the end of a 15 percent boost in SNAP benefits that was ordered as a pandemic protection measure. That benefit expires at the end of September.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that with the change, the US “will do a better job of providing healthy food for low-income families.”
The aid boost is being packaged a major revision to the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost to purchase groceries for a family of four and guides the way the government calculates benefits. In practical terms, the average monthly per-person benefits for qualified recipients will rise from $121 to $157.
The increase is projected to cost an additional $20 billion per year, but it won’t have to be approved by Congress. A farm law passed in 2018 by the then-GOP led Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump already directed the department to reassess the Thrifty Food Plan.