Food Stamp Boosts Are Bankrupting Taxpayers
- Food stamp benefits have increased by more than 100 percent since 2020.
- Emergency allotments are keeping food stamp payments elevated.
- Biden's legally questionable $95 food stamp boost to the emergency allotments drove up costs by nearly $1 billion per month.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a massive enrollment explosion in the food stamp program. In February 2020—just before the pandemic began—roughly 36.9 million Americans were receiving food stamps.1 But as of September 2022, approximately 41.7 million Americans were receiving food stamps, an increase of 4.8 million.2
However, this steep enrollment hike did not fall out of the sky. Pandemic-related federal and state policy changes are directly responsible for this dramatic increase in food stamps. These include the nationwide suspension of the food stamp work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents, the Biden administration’s 25 percent increase in food stamps, and an additional 12.5 percent food stamp benefit increase, among other policy changes.3-5
An equally harmful policy is the so-called food stamp “emergency allotments.” These emergency allotments were created in response to the pandemic to increase the amount of food stamp benefits so that everyone on food stamps would receive the maximum benefit for their household’s size, regardless of their income.6 States may receive and distribute these emergency allotments for as long as the national public health emergency remains in effect.7
In April 2021, President Biden expanded these emergency allotments even further through executive guidance.8The Biden administration boosted food stamps by an additional $95 per month for households already receiving the maximum food stamp benefit.9
As a result of the emergency allotments, food stamp benefits are through the roof with no end in sight—costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars while stifling the American workforce.
Food Stamp Benefits Have Increased by More Than 100 Percent Since February 2020
In February 2020, roughly $4.5 billion in food stamp benefits were paid out nationwide.10 However, by September 2022, this figure was more than $9.3 billion, an increase of more than 100 percent.11
All told, since the start of the pandemic, taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $265 billion in food stamp benefits.12 In fact, the average food stamp benefit for an individual has increased from $121.13 to $224.10, an increase of more than $100 per month.13
Emergency Allotments Are Keeping Food Stamp Payments Elevated
Of the $265+ billion in food stamp spending since the start of the pandemic, roughly one-third of this amount—or more than $90 billion—is directly attributable to the emergency allotments.14
At the beginning of the pandemic, these emergency allotments were costing approximately $2 billion per month.15But today, even with 18 states having ended their participation in emergency allotments, it is still costing taxpayers about $2.9 billion per month.16 This suggests that the massive hike in food stamp benefits—including the $100 average benefit size spike—has been concentrated in the 32 states continuing to pay out emergency allotments.
In fact, from FY2019 to FY2023, a single adult living in a state continuing to pay emergency allotments saw a $184 increase in their maximum monthly food stamp benefit.17 A family of four in a state continuing to pay out emergency allotments can now receive more than $1,000 per month in food stamps.18
Emergency allotment benefit amounts have continued to creep even higher as a direct result of the Biden administration’s $95 per household per month expansion.
Biden’s Legally Questionable $95 Food Stamp Boost to the Emergency Allotments Drove Up Costs by Nearly $1 Billion Per Month
The April 2021 emergency allotment boost from the Biden administration is only keeping these costs through the roof. For example, in March 2021, the total emergency allotment amount was roughly $2.6 billion.19 But by May 2021, this had skyrocketed to approximately $3.4 billion—a roughly 30 percent jump in just two months.20 The key difference was what occurred between those months: the Biden administration’s new “guidance” allowing an extra $95 per household per month.21
Unfortunately, the process by which this extra food stamp boost was pushed through is equally as concerning as the outcome of the policy change. Instead of promulgating a rule, the Biden administration used guidance to bypass public engagement and implement a change that cost nearly $1 billion in just one month.22 This costly executive overreach underscores the need for greater regulatory oversight by Congress.
The Biden administration’s guidance should be subject to the Congressional Review Act, which is an oversight tool that gives Congress the ability to step in and disapprove it.23 To strengthen oversight on the actions of the executive branch, Congress should pass the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require congressional approval of a regulation that costs more than $100 million before an agency can move forward to implement it.24 By strengthening congressional oversight, the additional food stamp boost—that cost nearly $1 billion in just one month—would be subject to greater scrutiny and possibly not approved by Congress to move forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Policymakers Must Act to Promote Work and Ensure Accountability
Even though the emergency allotments are now scheduled to expire at the beginning of March 2023 as a result of the December 2022 omnibus legislation, benefits will still remain highly elevated due to the numerous expansions of the program under the Biden administration. States can take preemptive actions to get their food stamp programs back under control by rescinding any waivers for work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), so that these work-able individuals will re-enter the workforce when the public health emergency expires. States can also take steps to assign able-bodied adults to their food stamp Employment & Training Programs in order to reach even more enrollees and bolster their workforce.
Congress should also resist any further attempts by the Biden administration to expand food stamp benefits by legislation and should hold the administration accountable for legally questionable expansions of the program by executive action.
In order to supercharge congressional accountability, Congress must pass the REINS Act to ensure further major executive actions are not permitted without legislative scrutiny. Without the REINS Act, America is only one crisis away from another major expansion of welfare.
1 Food and Nutrition Service, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: FY19 – current month,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/34SNAPmonthly-12.pdf.
3 Alli Fick and Scott Centorino, “Missing tool: How work requirements can reduce dependency and help find absent workers,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/one-tool-unleash-economic.recovery-solve-labor-crisis/.
4 Stewart Whitson, “Biden’s food stamp increase is harmful, misguided, and illegal,” Townhall (2021), https://townhall.com/columnists/stewartwhitson/2021/09/09/bidens-food-stamp-increase-is-harmful-misguided-and.illegal-n2595535.
5 Vance Cariaga, “Food stamps: COLA update increases SNAP EBT benefits by 12.5% starting Oct. 1,” Yahoo (2022), https://www.yahoo.com/video/food-stamps-cola-increases-snap-150415571.html.
6 H.R. 6201 of 2020. See, e.g., https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6201/text.
7 Jessica Shahin, “March 2020 emergency allotments memorandum,” Food and Nutrition Service (2020), https://fns.prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/SNAP-COVID-EmergencyAllotmentsGuidance.pdf.
8 Food and Nutrition Service, “April 2021 emergency allotment update,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2021), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/snap-covid-emergency-allotments-phase-3.guidance.pdf.
10 Food and Nutrition Service, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: FY19 – current month,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/34SNAPmonthly.11.pdf.
14 Author’s calculations based on cumulative emergency allotment distributions from March 2020 through November 2022. Note there is a lag between emergency allotment expense reporting (as of November 2022) and total food stamp spending (as of August 2022), which could slightly overstate the proportion of overall food stamp spending attributable to emergency allotments. Nevertheless, this is likely a minor discrepancy. See, e.g., Food and Nutrition Service, “SNAP COVID-19 emergency allotments guidance,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/covid-19-emergency-allotments-guidance.
15 Author’s calculations based on emergency allotment distributions. See, e.g., Food and Nutrition Service, “SNAP COVID-19 emergency allotments guidance,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/covid-19-emergency-allotments-guidance.
17 A single adult could receive a maximum allotment of $192 per month in FY2019 and $281 per month in FY2023, an increase of $89. The additional $95 allotment boost would increase this to $376 per month, a 96 percent hike over 2019 levels. See, e.g., Food and Nutrition Service, “Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) information,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/allotment/COLA.
18 A family of four could receive a maximum allotment of $939 per month, plus the additional $95 boost which would increase the total to $1,034 per month. See, e.g., Food and Nutrition Service, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 maximum allotments and deductions,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/FY23-Maximum-Allotments.Deductions.pdf.
19 Author’s calculations based on emergency allotment distributions. See, e.g., Food and Nutrition Service, “SNAP COVID-19 emergency allotments guidance,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2022), https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/covid-19-emergency-allotments-guidance.
21 Food and Nutrition Service, “April 2021 emergency allotment update,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (2021), https://fns-prod.azureedge.us/sites/default/files/resource-files/snap-covid-emergency-allotments-phase-3.guidance.pdf.
23 Government Accountability Office, “Congressional Review Act,” U.S. Government Accountability Office (2022), https://www.gao.gov/legal/other-legal-work/congressional-review-act.
24 Alli Fick et al, “Congress Must Rein in President Biden’s Regulatory Spending Spree to Tame Inflation,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/research/congress-must-rein-spending-to.tame-inflation/.