House panel probes SNAP ‘benefits cliff’ for struggling families

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For millions of American families, it isn’t always clear when or where the next meal may be coming from to feed loved ones.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, families across the country are still struggling to put food on the table,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.).

Millions of families rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

“Most SNAP recipients are children, elderly or disabled but most non-disabled adults on SNAP do work,” said Dr. Bradley Hardy, Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University.

Lawmakers in a House panel Monday discussed what’s known as the SNAP benefits cliff, which largely affects low-income families at or near the poverty line who may find themselves no longer eligible for benefits because of a small increase in income.

“We’ve inadvertently crafted a massive suite of programs that when stacked, create a trap for many instead of a ramp, or a cliff instead of a lift out of poverty,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska).

Eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined by household income and expenses.

SNAP recipients generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line.

For a family of three, that means the maximum income that can be earned and still be eligible for SNAP is just more than $28k a year in most states.

The Assistant Commissioner of Children and Family Services in Minnesota, Tikki Brown, read first-hand accounts of SNAP recipients affected by the benefits cliff.

“In the words of Zoe, I get up every morning and provide for my daughter,” Brown said. “If we try to make the amount of money to pay the rent that you just boosted up, why is it we lose food stamps because of it?”

Witnesses called for changes to SNAP including raising the maximum gross income for households and increasing overall SNAP benefits.

Lawmakers also discussed implementing a downward slope in benefits instead of a hard cutoff.

The federal government did increase emergency SNAP benefits during the pandemic which the Department of Agriculture said helped around 25 million Americans in very low-income households.