Merkley Warns SNAP Benefits Could Run Out, Calls for Robust Funding in Current and Upcoming Fiscal Year

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released the following statement today warning that troubling USDA data highlights the possibility that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could run out of funds before the end of this fiscal year:

“Even before the coronavirus hit, keeping food on the table and in kids’ lunchboxes was a daily struggle for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians and millions of Americans across the country. For the 43 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits, this program is the difference between going to bed with a full or an empty belly. But now, without more funding for SNAP, we run the very real risk that this lifeline will not be there for them by the time the fiscal year ends.

“The Department’s projected $2 billion surplus at the end of September assumes that SNAP participation is unchanged over the rest of the fiscal year. That assumption is dangerously flawed.

“From March to April of this year alone, 6 million people became newly-eligible for SNAP. Since the virus is still not contained in America, unlike in countries that have managed the pandemic response more competently, that participation number is expected to continue to climb as the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis deepen. Because the Senate Republicans and President Trump have chosen to cut unemployment insurance in the middle of this economic crisis, still more Americans are going to have to turn to SNAP as their incomes fall. Moreover, SNAP participation goes up in the wake of natural disasters. A bad hurricane year, as 2020 is forecast to be, can itself add $2 billion to the SNAP bill. Taken together, these factors point to a grave risk that SNAP will run out of funding before September 30.

“In the richest country in the world, no person should go hungry. Congress must ensure that SNAP doesn’t run out of resources, and that the program receives the funding it needs in both the current and upcoming fiscal year to meet the unique challenges of this turbulent time. The White House and Senate Republicans felt that the Trump pandemic and recession warranted negotiating $160 billion in tax breaks for wealthy real estate and hedge fund investors into the CARES Act. Surely they will agree that supplemental funding for SNAP to ensure children don’t go hungry is at least as important a priority.”

Senator Merkley’s statement comes as the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services reports that, largely due to the expiration of the $600 weekly unemployment benefit, SNAP applications increased by 37% during the first week of August. Applications had already risen 40-fold since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

Merkley has long championed SNAP by advocating for necessary funding and fighting to strengthen benefits. Throughout the pandemic, he has worked to help vulnerable families limit their exposure to the virus by leading a group of colleagues in calling on Amazon and Walmart to waive delivery fees and minimum order requirements for SNAP participants, and teaming up with his colleagues to call on the USDA to immediately work to ensure that Americans who receive SNAP can receive home food delivery and curbside pickup. He has also led the effort to increase SNAP benefits to help families make it through the pandemic and the related economic fallout.