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Latest Stimulus Bill Expands 15% Food Stamp Boost Through September. Here's What You Need to Know

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The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 gives further aid to millions of Americans — and, most importantly, children — who are facing food insecurity because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan includes $12 billion for food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It will extend the 15% monthly bump in benefits that the last Covid relief bill gave to all SNAP recipients through September, and help states continue the Pandemic-EBT program that replaces meals for children when schools are closed.

It will also help update the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and boost federal resources to states to deal with the increased demand for SNAP benefits.

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Food insecurity has become a widespread issue amid the Covid crisis. In the fall, nearly 20% of all adults and 40% of those in a family where at least one adult lost a job reported food insecurity, according to the Urban Institute.

"Food hardship has increased significantly during Covid-19, especially for households headed by Black and Latinx adults," said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center. "SNAP benefits can help provide the nutrition those households need."

Here's what you need to know.

How did the bill change SNAP?

The American Rescue Plan will extend through September the 15% boost that the December Covid relief package gave all SNAP recipients. The temporary top-up was previously set to end in June.

That amounts to around $25 more per person, per month, said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the No Kid Hungry Campaign. A family of four will get an extra $100 a month.

How do I know if I qualify?

You'll need to apply.

Many people don't try to access the benefit because they assume they're ineligible or worry about the stigma, said Carrie R. Welton, director of policy at advocacy group The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

"People will bring their own shame into this, but these are taxpayer resources," Welton said. "This pandemic is not anyone's fault."

SNAP has rules around how much you can own in assets and earn in income to qualify. But certain expenses, including your rent and child-care costs, can be deducted, Welton said.

And the $300-a-week federal unemployment increase in the bill will also not count toward people's income when they apply for SNAP, making more jobless people able to qualify. (Any state unemployment benefit will likely be calculated in their income.)

"This helps to make sure that some struggling families won't lose food assistance because they are receiving modest unemployment benefits," Davis said.

How do I apply?

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a state-by-state guide to applying for SNAP benefits.

The Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, also has resources to get you started.

If accessing Internet is a problem right now, you can look up your state's SNAP phone number on the DOA's website. In many states, you can also dial 211 to apply. 

How much could I get?

Under the new rules, the maximum monthly SNAP benefit for a family of four will be $782, a $102 increase from pre-pandemic times, Guardia said.

The maximum SNAP benefit for a household of one, meanwhile, will be $234, a $30 increase.

In some states, the maximum benefit is higher. For example, a family of four in Hawaii may receive a monthly benefit of $1,440.

The money will be sent to you each month on a EBT card, which acts like a debit card. People typically get the money in less than 30 days, but those with little to no income could get their benefits within a week.

What if I have young children at home?

The Pandemic-EBT program was created during the health crisis to provide food to families who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals. In an average month, it gives out an additional $114 per child, per month. That's on top of regular SNAP benefits.

"This is a huge benefit increase for them," said Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

The December bill gave states some additional flexibilities to support the distribution of P-EBT benefits to school-age children and expands the program for children younger than 6 years old through September 2021, providing a lifeline for young children when childcare is closed.

The latest Covid relief package expands P-EBT benefits through the summer, ensuring that children will still get food assistance even when school is not in session.

Generally, benefits will be automatically sent to eligible children such as those already receiving free or reduced school lunch — enrollment is not required. The money will either be loaded on a previous EBT card or on a newly issued one.

"A shocking number of children are facing hunger today," said Davis, adding that about 17 million American children didn't have enough to eat in 2020.

Where can I use my SNAP benefits?

The Department of Agriculture has an interactive map where you can search for retailers that accept SNAP benefits.

Many farmers' markets also accept the card, and you can search for one near you at the DOA's website

"And thanks to rapid expansion of a small pilot program in the wake of Covid, most states allow for online grocery programs," Davis said.

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