February 22, 2022

SNAP Participants in Florida are Seeing Smaller Benefit Allotments: How Households Can Maximize Food Assistance

Most Floridians who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food assistance) are having to make do with less benefits to provide for their families. For many, the reduction in their SNAP allotment was because COVID-related enhancements to SNAP ended. Still, others lost some or all of their SNAP after they received a Cost-Of-Living Adjustment (COLA) in their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check.

There are three main reasons why SNAP allotments have gone down since last year:

  • The temporary 15 percent increase to SNAP that had been authorized by Congress to help families out during COVID expired at the end of September 2021.
  • SNAP allotments may have decreased after the recent COLA was applied to Social Security and SSI benefits in January 2022.

Florida Lost Emergency Allotments because the State Decided to End its Health Emergency Declaration

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 allows states to issue emergency SNAP allotments to bring a family’s SNAP benefits up to the maximum for a household of their size during the federally-declared public health emergency.  EAs, which are paid for in their entirety by the federal government, provide a minimum of $95 in SNAP to households every month.

EAs are a powerful tool to fight food insecurity during COVID.  However, EAs are only available to persons in states that have a state-declared health emergency. Since Florida’s emergency declaration for the pandemic expired in June 2021, Florida lost the ability to provide EAs last year.  In contrast,  approximately 37 states continue to provide EAs, at least through February 2022.  

Because Florida no longer provides EAs, SNAP participants have lost at least $95 additional dollars more in SNAP assistance every month. In July 2021 alone, which was the last month that Florida issued EAs, approximately 1.7 million Florida households received an estimated $283 million in EAs.  

The Temporary 15 Percent Increase in SNAP Ended

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) automatically provided all SNAP participants with an additional 15 percent  per month in SNAP to help with food costs during COVID.  This increase, which was paid for by the federal government, amounted to about $28 per person every month in Florida. However, this 15 percent expired nation-wide on September 30, 2021.

Cost of Living Increases to Social Security Benefits Affected SNAP Allotments 

In the SNAP program, the amount of benefits that a household receives is based on family size, income, and certain expenses such as child care, rent/mortgage, and utilities. Unfortunately, both Social Security and SSI count as income in calculating SNAP benefit eligibility and allotment amount.

When Social Security and SSI checks went up in January 2022 due to COLAs, the SNAP benefits of participants were re-calculated — and, in most cases, lowered — to account for this additional income.

However, despite the corresponding decrease in SNAP due to the increase in Social Security and SSI, participants should have still come out ahead. As a general rule of thumb, a participant’s SNAP benefit only goes down by about $1 a month for every $3 increase in their income.  

Many Households Can Maximize SNAP Benefits

Although almost every SNAP participant in the state has experienced loss of SNAP benefits this year, there are things that many households can do to maximize their SNAP eligibility and allotment levels:

Take Advantage of Excess Medical Deductions

Out-of-pocket medical-related expenses that total over $35 per month must be considered by DCF in calculating the  SNAP benefits of people with disabilities and seniors aged 60 and older. This includes almost all unreimbursed medical costs, except for things like special diets and  food supplements like Ensure.

 Expenses that must be considered include costs such as unreimbursed over-the-counter vitamins and medications, transportation to the doctor’s office or drug  store to buy medications, dentures and denture cleaning supplies, hearing aids and batteries for hearing aids, incontinent supplies, and costs related to specially trained service animals. 

DCF will deduct most of those expenses from a household’s income when it calculates how much in SNAP participants can get each month. Although claiming these  costs can increase a household’s SNAP allotment dramatically,  many eligible households neglect to report these costs to DCF. 

Use 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. For example, households who spend $10 at a participating vendor will get an extra $10 for fresh produce. Because the program doubles the purchasing power of SNAP, FAB can go a long way in helping households stretch SNAP benefits.

Consider Growing Food

SNAP participants are permitted to buy plants and seeds with SNAP to grow their own food. While not every SNAP participant has the room  for even a small 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.

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