The instrument is an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture shopping list used to define food stamp benefits, perceived as the market basket.
A review of the so-called Thrifty Food Plan, directed by Biden two days after he took office, could trigger an automatic boost in benefits as early as Oct. 1, a day after expiration of a temporary 15% boost in food stamp payments that Biden included in his $1.9 trillion Covid-relief package.
James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, explained that the re-evaluation “could result in an upward adjustment of 20% or more in the benefits.” That would amount to about a $136-a-month raise in the maximum benefit for a family of four, which was $680 before the temporary pandemic-related rise.
“This is really meaningful,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor who served as a chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “It’s one of the bigger things the government can do for poverty without Congress.”
The reappraisal ends a years-long campaign by anti-hunger advocates to reassess the market basket. The value hasn’t been raised other than correcting for inflation for six decades.
The move is indicative of a broad commitment to anti-poverty programs across the Biden administration. Such actions were part of the Covid-relief package and introduced in Biden’s more fresh proposals for infrastructure and social program spending. In April, the Agriculture Department extended a universal free school lunch program tied to pandemic relief through the whole 2021-22 school year.
It’s a sharp turnabout from the Trump administration, which attempted to check eligibility for food aid, though the recommended limitations were reversed by courts. Food stamps, formerly known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once enjoyed broad bipartisan support. They’ve grown into a partisan flashpoint in recent years, as conservatives struggled to shrink the program. House Republicans attempted to impose reductions in 2013 and 2018, the last two times the program was reauthorized as part of the five-year Farm Bill.
Biden often talks of one of the most jarring images of pandemic-year economic collapse -- cars lined up for miles outside food banks to wait for a box of groceries -- and invoked it again in his first speech to Congress as he emphasized the value of anti-hunger initiatives in his vision for the country. “I didn’t ever think I’d see that in America,” he told millions watching at home.