Many Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants across the country faced a hunger cliff in March 2023 after Congress stopped providing extra SNAP benefits (called Emergency Allotments or EAs). EAs had gone a long way to help channel money into local economies quickly and ensure that people faced with skyrocketing grocery prices could put food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic. After EAs ended, each SNAP participant experienced, on average, a decrease of $90 per month in their SNAP allotment.
Florida — and SNAP participants living in the state — fared worse than most: Florida stopped providing EAs in August 2021 rather than March 2023, at a significant loss to Florida’s economy and to people participating in the program. Over time, the state’s early exit from EAs cost the state and SNAP participants as much as $5 billion or more in federal assistance.
EAs Lessened Hunger and Poverty and Helped the Economy Rebound
EAs were additional SNAP benefits paid for by the federal government and authorized by Congress on a temporary basis during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) from March 2020 through February 2023. SNAP provides monthly grocery benefits to households with low-income to help them purchase food for themselves and their families. EAs allowed states not only to increase assistance to SNAP participants who were facing food insecurity due to the high cost of groceries but also to provide an economic stimulus for local communities reeling from COVID-19-related setbacks. In addition, EAs were effective at keeping people out of poverty during the economic fallout of the pandemic.
EAs Provided Over $3 Billion in Grocery Assistance to Floridians Struggling During the Pandemic
Florida issued over $3 billion in federally funded EAs to SNAP participants in amounts ranging from $149 million to $287 million every month from March 2020 to July 2021, the last month that Florida distributed EAs to its residents. However, due to SNAP’s multiplier effect, the impact of extra benefits was even greater than $3 billion: every $1 in SNAP during an economic downturn generates at least $1.54 in economic activity, which puts the impact of EAs distributed in the Sunshine State at $4.6 billion.
Florida — and SNAP participants living in the state — fared worse than most: Florida stopped providing emergency allotments (EAs) in August 2021 rather than March 2023, at a significant loss to Florida’s economy and to people participating in the program.
Florida Stopped Providing EAs Early Despite the Economic Boon They Provided
Florida stopped providing EAs earlier than most other states. This is because one of the few prerequisites that Congress placed on states opting to provide EAs to SNAP participants was that there be both a federal and state-declared PHE in place. When Florida’s emergency declaration for the pandemic expired in June 2021, the state lost its ability to provide EAs for any month after July 2021. That made Florida one of the first 7 states in the country to stop providing residents extra SNAP through federally funded EAs. Subsequently, another 11 states stopped early. Thirty two states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, provided EAs to SNAP participants through March 2023, the full period of time authorized by Congress.
Florida Forfeited $5 Billion in Federally Funded EAs by Exiting Early
When the state stopped issuing EAs in 2021 to people participating in SNAP, Floridians lost the extra assistance that participants in other states continued to receive until March 2023 to help offset rising food costs during the pandemic. If Florida had not discontinued its PHE in 2021, SNAP participants would have been eligible to continue to receive EAs until March 2023. On average, each SNAP participant lost $90 of benefits a month.
In all, Floridians lost about $5 billion in federal funds due to the state’s premature exit from EAs. Taking into account a multiplier effect of $1.54 for every $1 issued in SNAP benefits, the cost to Florida of ending EAs early was a staggering $7.7 billion.
Some SNAP Policies Will Lessen the Blow of Lost EAs
It is not too late for Floridians to mitigate the loss of extra SNAP benefits. There are some steps that households should consider to get the maximum amount of benefits to which they are entitled.
Using Fresh Access Bucks (FAB)
The FAB program provides SNAP participants an equal amount in free fruits and vegetables when they use their SNAP benefits at participating vendors, which may include farmers markets, farm stands, community-backed agriculture efforts, and mobile markets.
SNAP participants are allowed to buy plants and seeds with SNAP to grow their own food. While not every SNAP participant has space for a garden, those who can grow their own food often realize significant cost savings. On average, for every $1 spent in SNAP on seeds, a household can grow an average of $25 in produce. Participants can buy seeds and plants with SNAP at any SNAP retailer that stocks them.
Maximizing Income Deductions
There are expenses that eligible households can claim as deductions to their income to increase monthly SNAP benefits:
- Dependent care costs for child care, or for a senior or an adult with a disability.
- Child support payments.
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses for participants who are aged 60 or older or have a disability. This includes things like co-pays, Medicare premiums, incontinent supplies, glasses, over-the-counter vitamins, denture supplies, transportation to the doctor or drug store for medications, and service animal costs.
- Shelter costs. Besides rent or mortgage payments, this includes expenses such as property taxes, HOA/condo fees, and insurance.
- The cost of staying in a motel or car, for people who are experiencing homelessness.
 In the SNAP program, benefit allotments are set by USDA up to a maximum amount based on the number of people in a household. Maximum allotments range anywhere from $281 for one-person households to $939 for four-person households. Ordinarily, not all households qualify for the maximum allotment. Instead, eligible participants get benefits in an amount that depends not only on their household size, but also on income and expenses. For the first year that EAs were issued (i.e., from March 2020 through March 2021), USDA raised the SNAP benefits of all households up to the maximum for a family of their size, which was a significant departure from how allotments are usually distributed. However, in April 2021, USDA reassessed the amount of EAs provided to SNAP participants so that all SNAP households would receive at least $95. This allowed households who were previously ineligible for EAs because they already received SNAP benefits at the maximum level to receive extra SNAP.
 FPI calculates $3 billion as the total amount of EAs provided to Floridians from March 2020 through July 2021. This amount reflects the estimates that the Department of Children and Families gave to FNS for the amount of emergency allotments issued for each month that Florida distributed EAs. See U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, “Florida: COVID-19 Waivers & Flexibilities: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Emergency Allotments,” August 30, 2022, https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19/florida#snap.
 USDA allowed states, like Florida, who ended their PHE early to provide an additional month of EAs in the month after their PHE expired.
 Of the 18 states that, like Florida, eventually either opted out or became ineligible to provide EAs, more than 1/3 were in the South.
 FPI calculates $5 billion as the amount in federal SNAP funds that Florida forfeited by stopping EAs early. This amount is based on the number of SNAP participants in Florida for each month, from August 2021 to February 2023, during which Florida did not provide federal EAs to otherwise eligible people (multiplied by $90, the average amount that each SNAP participant lost when EAs ended). See Department of Children and Families, “State of Florida, Public Assistance Caseload Report” at https://www.myflfamilies.com/sites/default/files/2023-03/caseload_circuit.xlsx. The number of SNAP participants in Florida ranged from 2.8 million to 3.2 million people per month from August 2021, the first month that Florida stopped EAs, through February 2023, the last month that Congress provided EAs.