In the 2022 General Assembly Session, expect renewed attention on mushrooming public assistance enrollment numbers, especially regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The federally-funded program, formerly referred to as “food stamps,” provides payments to low income individuals and families to purchase food. In an issue paper, the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS) highlighted the upward shift in SNAP enrollment:
The number of SNAP recipients increased at unprecedented rates during the COVID-19 pandemic… [E]nrollment reached 855,224 in July 2020 (the highest enrollment to date at that time), which is nearly 40% higher than the number of recipients in March 2020.
Enrollment fell briefly in fall 2020 due to temporary reinstatement of recertification requirements. By March 2021, the number of recipients reached another record high of 857,165, which is a 5.3% increase from February 2021. As of August 2021, the number of recipients remained high (854,592). High enrollment levels are expected to continue at least through the end of calendar 2021 as recertifications remain on hold.
Accounting for job loss and other COVID-19 related pressures resulting in food insecurity, the federal government enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (FFCRA). Among other provisions, the bill ensures “SNAP benefits to the maximum allowable level for a household size,” with no household receiving less than $30 per month. These emergency benefits, or “allotments,” have been extended through January of 2022.
Through the Act, “children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for days on which schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic” can receive an electronic SNAP payment equaling the cost of the breakfast and lunch they would otherwise receive. Moreover, the Act increased the overall amount available to SNAP recipients based on “four key factors: current food prices; what consumers typically eat; updated dietary guidance; and nutrients in available food items.”
In more recent news, The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland is engaged in a pilot allowing Medicaid to certify a child’s eligibility for SNAP, meaning that if a child is Medicaid-eligible, they are also SNAP-eligible. The state, too, has taken considerable action to protect low income, SNAP-eligible individuals and families:
- State Supplemental Benefit: Chapter 696 of 2016 established a supplemental benefit for households with a member who is at least 62 years old to ensure that these households receive at least $30 per month.
- Restaurant Meals Program: Chapter 475 of 2019 allowed individuals who do not have a place to store and cook food, may not be able to prepare food, or do not have access to a grocery store to use SNAP benefits for prepared meals.
- Summer SNAP: Chapters 635 and 636 of 2019 established a Summer SNAP program under which some households with school-aged children in select jurisdictions receive an additional $30 per child in the months of June, July, and August, and $10 in December. Summer SNAP is supported through State and local funds based on the Public School Construction contribution rate.
- Heat and Eat Program: Chapters 362 and 363 of 2021 require the Department of Human Services to apply a standard utility allowance to the shelter deduction used to determine countable gross income for SNAP eligibility, thereby increasing access to SNAP benefits.
With the potential of emergency federal funding coming to an end during the first month of the General Assembly’s 2022 session, a contingency/transition plan will be needed – one that would account for unprecedented SNAP enrollment levels.