Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial: Mitigate losses in SNAP program
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The abrupt ending of pandemic-era emergency increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will affect nearly 2 million people in Pennsylvania. Roughly 60% of those households have children, and more than half include older people or adults with disabilities. Minimum losses, effective March 1, to those families in SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, are $95 a month. But the statewide average loss exceeds $180 a month — a big hit to already struggling families.
State and federal governments can at least mitigate the harm by making modest changes to the pre-pandemic system. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan to increase minimum benefits is a good step that will raise the floor for SNAP benefits from $23 to $35 a month. This modest increase, besides helping the 20% of seniors receiving the minimum benefit, should also encourage more people to sign up for SNAP. Research shows that small minimum benefits discourage people, especially older people, from going to the hassle of applying.
To ensure needy people aren’t excluded from SNAP, the state should also index income eligibility thresholds to Social Security benefits. Now, many older households are losing SNAP benefits because an inflation-adjusted increase in their Social Security makes them ineligible for SNAP.
Three years ago, the federal government approved “emergency allotments” to help SNAP households cope with the added financial stresses caused by the pandemic. Under the change, SNAP benefits no longer correlated to income; instead, families received the maximum benefit for their household size, regardless of income.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, made another helpful change by revising the so-called Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The TFP sets the maximum SNAP benefits for each household size by calculating the cheapest selection of groceries a family can buy to maintain a healthy diet. Previous raises only accounted for inflation. The new formula resulted in 20% across-the-board increase in SNAP benefits. But that also means the amount families will now lose in SNAP benefits has increased.
To its credit, the Shapiro Administration mounted a broad public awareness campaign to ensure SNAP households were aware of the loss of benefits this month. It also urged people to use charitable organizations to help fill the gap. Food pantries, however, are not an attractive option for some people, especially older adults, who may struggle to access them or view them as demeaning handouts.
No doubt, the end of emergency SNAP benefits will hurt some families. State government should mitigate the pain by tweaking the pre-pandemic system. Mr. Shapiro’s plan would help, but more needs to be done to protect Pennsylvania families.
First Published March 21, 2023, 6:00am