U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, applauded the Biden Administration’s announcement of a permanent, 27 percent increase to SNAP benefits. The increase in benefits will affect approximately 42 million Americans overall, including 1.8 million Illinoisans and 54,459 households in Illinois’s 1st Congressional District, according to data from USDA.
“I grew up in poverty, and I’ll never forget eating syrup sandwiches as a kid because the only food in the house was bread and syrup,” said Rep. Rush. “I understand the importance of food security programs firsthand, and it is beyond clear to me that current benefit levels are wholly inadequate and have been for decades. In the richest nation in the world, it is unacceptable to allow kids to go to bed hungry and parents to struggle mightily to put food on the table day after day.”
“SNAP is the largest and most successful federal anti-hunger program we have, and it is a vital lifeline for more than 54,000 households — a full 20 percent of households — in the 1st District. I have long pushed efforts to expand SNAP and end the scourge of hunger in America, and I thank the Biden administration for moving quickly to update the Thrifty Food Plan and deliver a long-overdue increase in SNAP benefits ahead of schedule,” said Rush.
As a result of the change, low-income Americans receiving SNAP benefits will receive an average of $36.24 more per person per month, and total SNAP benefits in Illinois will increase by $961 million to nearly $4.5 billion.
The increase in SNAP benefits comes by way of an update to the Thrifty Food Plan, USDA’s calculation of what it costs to buy a nutritious diet with minimal resources, which is used to set SNAP benefit levels. Prior to this change, the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan had not changed in more than sixty years (aside from adjustments for inflation), despite growing evidence that the plan was inadequate to support a healthy diet. This was in large part because, in the four previous updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, USDA required that the plan remain cost-neutral. In the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill, Congress directed USDA to update the plan by 2022.
Despite the critical support provided by SNAP benefits, nearly 50 percent of SNAP households remain food insecure. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that SNAP does not cover the cost of a low-income meal in 96 percent of U.S. counties. An analysis of USDA data found that SNAP households ate significantly less healthily in the last 10 days of their monthly benefit cycle, when they are most likely to run out of assistance; other studies have also shown that caloric intake for SNAP recipients decreases dramatically in the final days of their benefit cycle.
Last week, Rush joined other Members of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations in a letter to Secretary Vilsack emphasizing that USDA’s reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan should not be cost-neutral and that, once updated, SNAP benefits should be adjusted accordingly.
Rush introduced legislation to strengthen and expand SNAP last year and plans to introduce similar legislation this Congress. In May, Rush spoke at a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations hearing titled, “The Future of SNAP: Moving Past the Pandemic” and asked expert witnesses and SNAP beneficiaries what changes they would recommend to the program to reduce food insecurity.
In the early 1970s, Rush helped create and administer the Free Breakfast for Children Program in Chicago as a member of the Black Panther Party. By 1972, the program was feeding 25,000 children across the nation free breakfast every morning before they went to school. The Black Panther Party’s program was an impetus for the USDA to launch the federal School Breakfast Program in 1975, which today helps feed more than 14.57 million children.