Federal spending on the nation’s food stamp program experienced a nearly 50 percent increase in 2020 amid the economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The data, first reported by Politico, revealed that in fiscal year 2020, the federal government devoted approximately $90 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
This marks a significant increase from 2019, when the USDA recorded $60 billion spent.
Nearly 44 million Americans currently rely on the program, a jump from roughly 36 million in 2019.
The increase in spending can also be attributed to a move by Congress last year to increase benefit levels on an emergency basis amid the pandemic, with the average monthly benefit increasing from $130 in 2019 to $161 in 2020, according to the USDA data.
More families are relying on food stamps amid layoffs and job losses due to coronavirus restrictions, with about 5 million more households receiving food stamps in 2020 than in 2019.
The data comes after President Biden last Friday signed an executive order increasing the scope of SNAP and other nutritional assistance programs. The order expands SNAP to about 12 million people who were previously deemed ineligible for the program.
The order, one of several issued by Biden in his first days in office, also addressed the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, a program to help families cover costs for food children normally get at school meals. Biden increased the benefits by about 15 percent.
The order also initiates a process of reevaluating the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which serves as the basis for SNAP.
Biden has also proposed a $1.9 trillion relief proposal aimed at helping American workers, businesses and state and local governments impacted by the virus.
A large portion of the proposal is also dedicated to supporting nationwide testing, as well as plans for distributing vaccines and reopening schools.
Biden acknowledged Monday that it could take “a couple of weeks” to reach an agreement. While Biden has indicated that he would like to get bipartisan support on the package, the White House has said it could also pass in Congress with a slim majority.