U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has suggested making enhancements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including automatic increases to benefits during economic downturns and permanent expansion of food assistance for people enrolled in other types of safety net programs.
“We are doing too little to provide a basic safety net for the millions of struggling families across the country,” said Bennet. “We should never allow the kind of severe hardship we are seeing in America today, with our food banks strained to a breaking point as families wait in line for hours on end just to be able to eat.”
Bennet’s proposed legislation, the Food for Families in Crisis Act of 2020, would implement a trigger in the SNAP program, increasing maximum food assistance benefits by 15% whenever the national unemployment rate increases by 0.5% in a 12-month period. His office reported that such an increase occurred “virtually never” outside of recessions. The benefits boost would last until the unemployment rate declines two months in a row, unemployment falls below 5.5%, or the rate is within 1.5% of the number prior to the month of the trigger.
In Colorado, nearly 8% of the state’s population was enrolled in SNAP as of March 2019. Most states had at least 10% of their residents enrolled, and in New Mexico more than one in five residents received food assistance. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the average SNAP benefit amounts to $1.40 per person per meal. As part of Congress's COVID-19 response, states are currently authorized to provide maximum benefits to all recipient households.
During recessions, Bennet’s proposal would also suspend work requirements for recipients and award $7 million for upgrades to the food distribution networks on tribal reservations. There would also be a universal implementation of broad-based categorical eligibility, which allows for enrollment through other safety net programs and increased participation due to less stringent income requirements. The Trump Administration has proposed to end the practice, which would end benefits to approximately 3 million people.