Food stamp spending jumped nearly 50 percent in 2020

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Federal spending on the country’s largest nutrition assistance program increased by nearly 50 percent in 2020 amid the economic shock of the pandemic, according to newly released data from the Agriculture Department.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still known to many as food stamps, cost nearly $90 billion in fiscal year 2020, USDA said Wednesday. That’s a major jump from just over $60 billion in 2019.

The why: The massive increase in cost is a result of two major factors: Some 8 million more Americans are getting aid, and benefit levels were increased by Congress on an emergency basis last spring to help blunt the effects of widespread business and school shutdowns.

There are now nearly 44 million individuals on the program, up more than 20 percent from about 36 million in 2019, according to the latest data. The average monthly benefit per person has jumped to $161, from about $130.

Roughly 5 million more households got help from the program in 2020 compared with 2019.

The backstory: The Trump administration had fallen behind on reporting data on SNAP participation, so the full picture of how the program expanded was not previously known.

The cost of SNAP had been steadily declining before Covid-19 as the economy improved and wages started to rise.

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