While comprising less than 2% of the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress on Dec. 22 and signed into law on Dec. 27 by President Donald Trump, $13 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the legislation was noteworthy. The SNAP spending will help alleviate food insecurity, which has as much as doubled during the pandemic, according to a Northwestern University estimate.
Particularly helpful will be a provision making it easier for low-income college students to access SNAP benefits. Many readers of this publication may be surprised to learn that even before the pandemic, food insecurity among college students was disturbingly high — with 48% indicating they had been food insecure in the previous 30 days. Compounding the problem, the General Accounting Office indicated that more than half of students who qualified for SNAP benefits in the past did not receive them. Many of the foodservice jobs college students often rely upon for income have dried up during the pandemic. Students attending school remotely, away from campuses, have less access to remaining jobs. Increased funding for SNAP and easier access for college students may help lower dropout rates, boost economic growth and lessen the need for federal assistance longer term.
While modest relative to the $284 billion earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program, the $13 billion in additional SNAP spending represents a meaningful proportion of annual SNAP spending (estimated at $85.6 billion in fiscal 2020, up from $60.4 billion in fiscal 2019). The president’s last-moment decision to sign the legislation into law was highly welcome.