by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Up until the pandemic, federal dollars on SNAP appeared mostly effective, as increases in spending tracked with lower rates of food insecurity. Advocates for higher federal spending argue that increasing SNAP even more will further reduce food insecurity rates. However, recent surges in federal spending on SNAP suggest that pouring more and more money into the program will do little to reduce food insecurity rates, making the potential negative consequences of increased SNAP spending that much more important to consider.
… [T]he large increases in SNAP expenditures in 2020 and 2021 have not corresponded to large declines in food insecurity rates. Congress authorized emergency SNAP allotments in 2020 and increased SNAP benefits temporarily in 2021 by 15 percent, while President Joe Biden’s administration permanently increased SNAP benefit levels by 25 percent in October 2021 (benefits will also adjust for inflation on October 1, 2022). The overall result has been a 40 percent increase in SNAP expenditures in constant dollars since before the pandemic. Despite these dramatic increases in federal spending, we have not seen similar declines in food insecurity rates.
These trends should raise a few red flags, the first being cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that annual SNAP expenditures will remain north of $100 billion through 2032—$50 billion more in real dollars than in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Funding to pay for these added expenditures will increase the federal deficit, unless accompanied by tax increases or program cuts elsewhere. Moreover, additional annual funding for SNAP likely means less available for other programs, including public investments in children.
The second concern involves the unintended employment consequences of expanding SNAP. Research suggests that SNAP receipt can reduce employment by affecting decisions around work, making the return to pre-COVID labor force participation rates even more challenging in the context of a larger government safety net, including SNAP.
Perhaps the most concerning consequence, however, is the potential negative effect on the health and nutrition of low-income Americans.