MAINE, USA — Mainers who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be getting a boost in their buying power. The US Department of Agriculture has announced a 21% permanent increase to the program after re-evaluating the cost of healthy meals.
According to Gallant, about 157,000 Mainers use SNAP benefits.
Beginning on October 1st, recipients will see an automatic 21% increase to funds loaded on EBT or Pine Tree cards.
The USDA recently announced the boost after re-evaluating the cost of food, nutrition guidance, and what Americans eat.
Gallant says this increase could help lift many Maine families out of poverty.
"For every dollar in SNAP, it generates a dollar 70 in economic activity, and what I mean by that is people are going to their local grocery stores and are purchasing food with that SNAP benefit, so we know that with this increase of SNAP dollars coming in, its lifting Mainers out of hunger and out of poverty," said Gallant.
Gallant explains that the USDA assessed the foods and beverages that make up a healthy diet for the first time and then determined how much it would cost to purchase these foods.
"Meaning the cost of the recommended modernization of the plan did not drive the process to determine the increase. The re-evaluation was calculated using actual prices, products, and purchasing data collected from stores versus self-reported data from households," she said.
SNAP receivers get the maximum benefit amount based on their size.
"The biggest difference between the temporary increases made to SNAP during the pandemic and the Thrifty Food Plan is the permanence and modernization of benefits," said Gallant.
The re-evaluation is important for several reasons:
- It's a permanent increase
- It's the largest permanent increase that the SNAP program has ever seen
- It took into account convenience foods, like pre-cooked canned beans and pre-cut salads, chopped frozen vegetables, and pre-cut salads have been added to help increase nutrition values for each meal.
Before the pandemic, Maine had one of the highest rates of food insecurity than any other state. More than 167,000 Mainers rely on the Good Shepherd Food Bank and its network of partners.
Gallant says today that number approaches 182,000, with at least 50,000 being children.
The USDA does an annual assessment of the Thrifty Food Plan, which recommends a cost-neutral SNAP adjustment.
Gallant says over the past two decades, the average SNAP increase has been 2%.
It does not include hot or warm pre-cooked foods, as they are still restricted from SNAP purchases, such as rotisserie chicken vs. uncooked chicken.
It also does not consider SNAP to cover the entire cost of food.
"This is an attempt to reduce that gap, but it falls short of eliminating it entirely," said Gallant.
SNAP recipients should automatically receive the adjusted amount beginning October 2021.
If you don't have SNAP benefits and think you are eligible, you can fill out this application here.