Indiana paid out a record $154 million in SNAP benefits in February
(The Center Square) – Unemployment in Indiana reached an all-time low last month of 2.3%.
But in February, the state paid out a record $154 million in SNAP benefits — food stamps.
That’s more than twice the amount the state paid out in February 2020, the month before a statewide public health emergency was declared.
It’s also higher than in the spring of 2020, when unemployment spiked as thousands of so-called “non-essential” businesses were forced to close to comply with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s order to “slow the spread” of the virus.
It’s not that so many more people are getting SNAP benefits now.
It’s that those getting them have been getting much higher benefit levels.
In March of 2021, Congress announced it was raising all SNAP benefits by 15% and would allow give everyone on SNAP the maximum monthly benefit amount – normally only given to those with the lowest incomes and most dependents.
Those maximum benefit amounts are:
$250 a month for one person
$459 a month for a two-person household
$658 a month for a three-person household
$835 a month for a four-person household
$992 a month for a five-person household…..
and up to $1504 for an eight-person household and $188 for each additional person over this.
The increased federal funding came from the American Rescue Plan.
The 15% increase expired Sept. 30, 2021, and the boost to maximum benefit amount for all recipients was to end, under federal law, when a state ended its pandemic emergency status.
This was a point of contention in the Indiana General Assembly last month as Republicans pushed through a bill containing provisions Holcomb said were necessary for him to allow the statewide health emergency to end. The bill had the extra SNAP benefits from the federal government expiring on April 16 — something Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, strenuously objected to, saying working families still need the extra money. But he didn’t prevail.
May will be the last month that all SNAP recipients in the state, regardless of income level, will receive the maximum benefit amount.
But the total cost of the SNAP program, a federal program with administrative costs split 50/50 between the federal government and states, will probably not go back to pre-pandemic levels.
In a move separate from the pandemic response, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the SNAP program, to study the amount of benefits that would be required for people to buy healthy food. As a result of this study, SNAP benefit amounts were increased 40 cents per person, per meal. That increase is permanent.
In general, eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined by gross and net monthly income. A family of three can have a maximum monthly gross income of no more than $2,379 to qualify — $1,888 for a two-person household or $2,871 for a four-person household.
SNAP Program - Indiana - Total Payouts
February 2006: $54,126,094 (249,411 households)
February 2010: $106,097,119 (342,960 households)
February 2020: $67,532,546 (255,786 households)
February 2021: $141,613,322 (309,049 households)
February 2022 $154,345,534 (289,456 households)
A few journalists spent years trying to find out WHAT is purchased with SNAP benefits, and the federal government spent years fighting to keep this information a secret.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against disclosure in 2019.
Here’s what happened, according to the publication Supermarket News:
The case arose in 2011, when a South Dakota newspaper, the Argus Leader, filed a FOIA request with the USDA for the names and addresses of all retail stores participating in SNAP and each store’s annual redemption data for the fiscal years 2005 to 2010.
USDA declined to provide the data, and the Argus Leader sued. For years, the USDA defended its decision in court before ultimately abandoning the case and warning retailers that their SNAP redemption data could be subject to disclosure. The case ended up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled and then back to federal court in South Dakota, which ruled in favor of releasing the information. FMI said that marked the point it intervened on behalf of its membership. FMI appealed the case again to the Court of Appeals, which in 2018 ruled against the institute, leading to the Supreme Court challenge. The high court began hearing oral arguments on Jan. 11 and then on June 24 remanded and reversed the judgment against FMI.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, saying that information related to what is purchased with SNAP in individual stores is private and is exempt from public disclosure.
“At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is ‘confidential’ within the meaning of Exemption 4…Because the store-level SNAP data at issue here is confidential under that construction, the judgment of the court of appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
In reviewing the history of the case, Gorsuch noted that disclosure of store-level SNAP data could “create a windfall for competitors” of those retailers.
“At trial, witnesses for the USDA testified that retailers closely guard store-level SNAP data and that disclosure would threaten stores’ competitive positions. They explained that retailers use models of consumer behavior to help choose new store locations and to plan sales strategies. Competitors’ estimated sales volumes represent an important component of these models and can be time-consuming and expensive to generate. And a model’s accuracy and utility increase significantly if it includes a rival’s actual sales data rather than mere estimates,” Gorsuch wrote.