Child Poverty

New Analysis from CDF: SNAP Must Be Improved to Fight Child Hunger During the Pandemic and Beyond

May 18, 2020 | National

Even before the pandemic, more than 11 million children—disproportionately children of color—went to bed hungry in America. Now, widespread school and childcare closures are leaving children with even less reliable access to nutritious meals and historic job losses are making it harder for families to put food on the table. Childhood hunger is rising rapidly and a third of households with children are not getting enough food each day. This pandemic is putting our children’s physical, mental, and developmental health at dire risk and exacerbating our nation’s hunger crisis. 

That is why income supports like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are more important than ever. In times of crisis, SNAP serves as our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. SNAP helps feed 17 million children and lifts 1.4 million children out of poverty each year. 

However, millions of children are still hungry or left out altogether because SNAP benefits are too low, requirements are too harsh, and access is too limited. SNAP benefits average only $1.40 a person per meal among families with children, which means many children and families still go to bed hungry. Others are unable to meet burdensome requirements or denied benefits entirely. And even in the midst of a pandemic and the greatest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, the Trump administration is continuing to push for implementation of a harsh rule that would impose stricter time limits and take healthy meals away from 700,000 people. 

At a time when children and families in America need help the most, we must strengthen—not weaken—lifesaving nutrition assistance. It is not only morally right, but also economically smart. Expanded SNAP benefits during the 2009 Great Recession reduced food insecurity, prevented an additional 1 million people from falling into poverty, and stimulated our economy. SNAP is one of the most effective and responsive federal programs during an economic downturn, generating $1.50 to $1.80 in economic activity for every SNAP dollar spent. Simply put: SNAP works and must be expanded.

While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act made some preliminary and temporary improvements to SNAP, Congress must do more to help children and families facing increased financial strain and hunger. We applaud House Democrats for including critical SNAP expansions in the HEROES Act and urge Congress to preserve and pass these much-needed provisions. The next COVID relief package must:

  • Boost the maximum SNAP benefits by 15 percent, which would provide an extra $100 a  month for an average family of four.
  • Increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 and switch from the Thrifty Food Plan to the Low-Cost Food Plan to increase benefits. 
  • Suspend all SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits.
  • Expand program eligibility for SNAP and Pandemic EBT, including by allowing young children who are enrolled in childcare feeding programs and college students to qualify. 
  • Enhance and restructure SNAP administrative processes by waiving requirements for in-person meetings, connecting SNAP applicants to other social programs, and providing enough funding to meet increased caseload demands.
  • Allow the purchasing of hot foods and foods at restaurants. 
  • Waive harsh work requirements until the economic downturn ends. 

Children and families need real and permanent changes to SNAP to ensure full access to healthy food during this crisis and beyond. Now is the time to act.

To learn more about our proposal to expand SNAP, download our fact sheet here.