A Snapshot of the Pandemic-Era SNAP Program and the Upcoming 2023 Farm Bill

April 27, 2023 by Rosalie A. Peng

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves more than 5.4 million American households annually.[1] The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implements SNAP in cooperation with state social service agencies to reduce food insecurity. Eligible low-income households receive monthly benefits via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that can be used at supermarkets. As of February 2022, SNAP helped 41 million low-income individuals in the United States, and its EBT cards were accepted at around 254,000 retailers across the country.[2] SNAP has the distinction of being one of the only federal assistance programs that are available to almost all low-income households, as other programs are contingent on certain characteristics, such as households with individuals with disabilities, or have caps on how many individuals can receive benefits.[3]

SNAP was quick to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic: beginning in March 2020, SNAP rules were temporarily modified to allow for Emergency allotments, a 15 percent benefit boost, and the establishment of the Pandemic-EBT program, which made up for the free school meals children missed due to the stay-at-home orders.[4] SNAP benefits rose from about $120 per person pre-pandemic to $230 during the summer of 2021.[5] Congress also temporarily suspended SNAP’s 3-month lime limit, extended eligibility to include college students, waived administrative processes to facilitate quick benefits delivery, and increased funding for nutrition assistance block grants.[6]

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act[7] to counteract the heightened level of food insecurity. The Act was not intended to permanently increase SNAP allotments, and will end when the president declares an end to the pandemic.[8] Nine months later, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which officially ended the additional benefit allotments.[9] On January 30th, 2023, the Biden Administration announced plans to declare the end of the pandemic in May 2023.[10] However, over eighteen states have already ceased dispensing the SNAP emergency allotments before the upcoming deadline.[11]

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts that households impacted by the end date will see losses of at least $95 per month, while some could even lose over $250 a month.[12] This is a detrimental loss for vulnerable populations who need this support the most. A study done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that nearly 90 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, older adults, or disabled adults.[13] Pre-pandemic data showed that SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty antidote, which kept around 8 million people (including 3.6 million children) above the poverty line.[14] SNAP’s most potent distinction is how it responds to the economy: during times of high unemployment and decreasing household income, SNAP automatically expands its eligibility to those who need its assistance,[15] acting as an economic stimulus and bolstering household purchasing power.

An important determinant of SNAP’s continued potency is the Farm Bill. Despite its name, the Farm Bill has huge implications for anti-hunger and anti-poverty measures in addition to agriculture. The Farm Bill is refreshed every five years, allowing lawmakers to debate SNAP’s budget and tinker with its administration.[16] Despite House Republicans’ and Trump White House’s calls to reduce food stamp benefits, former President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law rejecting House Republicans’ proposed deep cuts to programs like SNAP.[17] In an interesting turn of events, immediately after the proposed cuts were rejected by Congress, the Trump-era USDA proposed a rule (the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents”) that expanded requirements for certain low-income groups to access the SNAP program[18] – directly contravening Congressional intent in the 2018 Farm Bill. 20 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City filed suit, and in March 2020, in light of the pandemic, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the rule for violating the federal rulemaking process and contradicting Congressional intent in the 2018 Farm Bill.[19] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia subsequently dismissed the USDA’s appeal.[20]

The 2018 Farm Bill will expire in October; the 2023 Farm Bill is currently up for negotiations. A key point of contention between Republican and Democrat lawmakers is the size of the SNAP budget, which is projected to cost $127 billion in 2023, up from $65 billion in 2018, and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.[21] The 2023 fiscal year estimated SNAP spending is more than double the annual spending pre-COVID-19.[22] Following President’s Biden’s State of the Union address on February 7th, 2023, where Republicans gave reactionary promises to not push for cuts in Social Security or Medicare, there have been no promises on either side of the aisle to not downsize SNAP.[23]

At a time when COVID-19 still lingers in the American backdrop and unprecedented levels of inflation, SNAP provides a vital lifeline to families on the cusp of falling below the poverty line. As Republicans currently retain control of the House, there will likely be a push to enforce or add work requirements to be eligible for SNAP benefits.[24] Either way, it would take a bipartisan effort to make sure needy families are served as America navigates the post-pandemic world.


[1] Policy Basics: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/the-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap (last visited Feb. 25, 2023).

[2] Laura Wheaton & Danielle Kwon, Effect of the Reevaluated Thrifty Food Plan and Emergency Allotments on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits and Poverty, Urban Institute, https://www.urban.org/research/publication/effect-reevaluated-thrifty-food-plan-and-emergency-allotments-supplemental, (Aug. 1, 2022).

[3] Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy, National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK206907/#:~:text=SNAP%20was%20preceded%20by%20the,emerged%20from%20the%20Great%20Depression, (last visited Feb. 25, 2023).

[4] Ty Jones Cox, A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Stakeholder Perspectives on Title IV SNAP Provisions, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/a-2022-review-of-the-farm-bill-stakeholder-perspectives-on-title-iv-snap (Jun. 8, 2022).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Kellie Moss & Lindsey Dawson, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Summary of Key Provisions, Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-summary-of-key-provisions/ (Mar. 30, 2020).

[8] Id.

[9] About the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a U.S. Department of the Treasury, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/about-the-cares-act (last visited Feb. 25, 2023).

[10] Adam Cancryn, Biden to end Covid health emergency declarations in May, Politico, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/30/biden-end-covid-health-emergency-may-00080305 (Jan. 30, 2023).

[11] Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech, Pandemic SNAP benefits are ending soon. Here’s what to know, Changing America, https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/poverty/3871569-pandemic-snap-benefits-are-ending-soon-heres-what-to-know/ (Feb. 23, 2023).

[12] Id.

[13] Cox, supra note 4.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Savannah Maher, For the 2023 Farm Bill, expect a political showdown over SNAP benefits, Marketplace,  https://www.marketplace.org/2023/02/16/for-the-2023-farm-bill-expect-a-political-showdown-over-snap-benefits/ (Feb. 16, 2023).

[17] Jeff Stein, President Trump signs $867 billion farm bill into law, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/20/president-trump-signs-billion-farm-bill-into-law/ (Dec. 20, 2018).

[18] AC Racine Leads 21-State Coalition Opposing USDA Rule That Would Unlawfully Strip Residents of Food Stamp Benefits, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, https://oag.dc.gov/release/ag-racine-leads-21-state-coalition-opposing-usda (Apr. 3, 2019).

[19] AC Racine Announces Successful Conclusion of Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration’s Food Assistance Cuts, Urges Congress to Expand Program, , Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, https://oag.dc.gov/release/ag-racine-announces-successful-conclusion-lawsuit (Mar. 24, 2021).

[20] Id.

[21] Keith Good, Farm Bill Budget, SNAP in Focus at Senate Ag Committee Nutrition Hearing, Farm Policy News, https://farmpolicynews.illinois.edu/2023/02/farm-bill-budget-snap-in-focus-at-senate-ag-committee-nutrition-hearing/ (Feb. 19, 2023).

[22] Robert Parrlberg & G. William Hoagland, Will SNAP work requirements doom the farm bill – again?, The Hill, https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/3861232-will-snap-work-requirements-doom-the-farm-bill-again/ (Feb. 16, 2023).

[23] State of the Union Address, The White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2023/ (Feb. 7, 2023).

[24] Kristina Peterson, Food Stamp Program in Political Crosshairs as Pandemic-Era Changes End, The Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/food-stamp-program-in-political-crosshairs-as-pandemic-era-changes-end-709ed906 (Feb. 19, 2023).