A graphic of an EBT card
Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards allow SNAP recipients to pay for food using their benefits. Graphic courtesy of Nebraska DHHS

Nebraska’s SNAP recipients will see a moderate increase in their benefits starting this month due to an update in the federal plan affecting food stamps benefits. 

This change comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture reevaluated the Thrifty Food Plan, which sets SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits for the country. Recipients can expect, in general, a $12-$16 increase per person, per month. The new plan increases the purchasing power of the plan by 21%, said Shannon Grotrian, economic assistance programs administrator for Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Every year, there’s small cost of living type increases that occur, but this is the first time since 1975 that the entire plan, the basis of the program, has really been fully reevaluated,” Grotrian said. 

The plan being reevaluated, the Thrifty Food Plan, is one of four food plans created by the USDA and represents the cost of maintaining a nutritious, practical and cost-effective diet at home for a family of four, according to the USDA website. 

Grotrian said that she believes the plan will be beneficial to those in the state that receive SNAP benefits because, for the first time since 1975, the actual costs of eating a healthy diet have been reevaluated. 

The plan was reevaluated because of the 2018 Farm Bill, which directed the USDA to reevaluate the plan by 2022 and then every five years thereafter. Its main focus is to set the maximum benefit amounts allotted for SNAP recipients.

According to SNAP participation data from the USDA, 1 in 12 Nebraska residents received the benefits in 2019. Of these, 72% of participants are in families with children. Between 2013 and 2017, it’s estimated that SNAP kept 31,000 people out of poverty on average in the state. 

“SNAP is the best poverty program in existence to give poor families a helping hand,” Sen. John McCollister of Omaha said. 

The recent SNAP benefit increase raised the maximum allotment for a three-person household from $535, the pre-pandemic level, to $658, the current level. During the pandemic, in 2021, the maximum allotment for the same household was raised to $616. However, this was a temporary increase that expired on Sept. 30, 2021. The Thrifty Food Plan increased the benefits permanently to offset the pandemic increase according to Grotrian. 

These SNAP benefit increases come alongside the recently passed legislation, LB 108, which was introduced by Sen. McCollister. This bill increased the gross income limit for SNAP households from 130% of the federal poverty level to 160%. 

Where a person lies on the federal poverty level depends on how many people are in their household. In a family of four, for example, a federal poverty level of 130% is around $34,450 annually. For the same family, a federal poverty level of 160% is around $42,400 annually. 

“What this means is more people are eligible at higher income amounts than they were prior to that bill passing,” Grotrian said. “So not only are more people eligible, but they’re eligible for higher allotments than ever before.” 

According to McCollister, LB 108 will enable nearly 2,500 more families to receive SNAP benefits and improve the standard of living for Nebraska citizens living on the margins of society. 

“Food insecurity was a major problem prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 exacerbated food insecurity to heightened levels,” McCollister said. “Health issues, lockdown, employment issues all made providing nutrition to hungry families a prime concern.” 

Those already receiving SNAP benefits don’t need to do anything to gain access to the new benefits. Grotrian urged those who are interested in applying for SNAP to apply on the DHHS website, or over the phone with a representative.