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President Biden Expands Food Stamps, Alleviating Some Stress for Families

mom and son putting groceries in the car

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Key Takeaways

  • In a new executive order, President Biden expanded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15%, along with other actions intended to lower food insecurity nationwide.
  • The executive order expands on previous food assistance programs from December.
  • This increased assistance is expected to positively impact the mental and physical health of parents and children.

On Friday, January 22, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order calling for a 15% expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. In a statement announcing the order, the White House stated, “Across the country, one in seven households, and more than one in five Black and Latino households report that their household is struggling to secure the food they need.” These numbers account for about 29 million adults and 12 million children across the country. 

The executive order explains the need for further federal aid, continuing, “In December, Congress bolstered food assistance programs and provided new funding for food banks and school and child care meals. But these measures alone will not solve the growing hunger crisis in America.”

What Else Does the Order Provide? 

In addition to expanding SNAP, Biden also called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take additional steps to improve nutrition assistance offerings. This includes updating the basis for SNAP benefits to reflect modern costs of obtaining healthy food, allowing for more emergency allotments of SNAP to the lowest-income households, and increasing Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) by 15%. 

White House Statement

Across the country, one in seven households and more than one in five Black and Latino households, report that their household is struggling to secure the food they need.

— White House Statement

P-EBT is a government response designed to supplement school meals missed due to the pandemic. Many families have struggled to claim benefits for this program, and the max amount provided per day is $5.70. The new order could increase assistance to families with three children by more than $100 every two months.

“We are grateful to the current administration, which understands the necessity of addressing food insecurity. Increasing government resources can make a huge impact at a time when every dollar is critical,” says Karen C. Erren, president and CEO of Feeding Westchester, a member of Feeding America. “However, it’s also important to understand that this need isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Food insecurity is one of many factors leading to increased poor mental health since the start of the pandemic. In a June 2020 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40.9% of US adults reported experiencing at least one mental or behavioral health condition.

When a person can’t fulfill a basic need such as food, mental health issues can emerge or expand. “Those who do not experience a threat to the fulfillment of basic needs are less likely to have a preoccupation with them, and instead may devote time to promote psychological and self-fulfillment needs,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist.

“Alternatively, folks with food insecurity are unable to nourish higher level needs to facilitate growth, relatedness, and self-development due to concern for survival.”

Food Security Is Linked to Better Mental and Physical Health 

In a 2016 study from the Journal of Public Health, researchers tied food insecurity to an increased risk of mental illness. Of the 100,401 participants, severely food-insecure women had an 18.4% higher frequency of mental illness, with the same true for 13.5% of men, than people in food-secure households. The risk of mental illness increased for women who reported experiencing higher stress and social isolation.

Romanoff explains that stressors associated with food insecurity include chronic stress and nutritional deficiencies. “These effects are particularly compounded in children,” she says. “Specifically, some consequences of food insecurity in youth include lower physical and social functioning, lower mental development, lower attachment to caregivers, school absence, higher levels of aggression, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.”

Sabrina Romanoff. PsyD

Those who do not experience a threat to the fulfillment of basic needs are less likely to have a preoccupation with them, and instead may devote time to promote psychological and self-fulfillment needs.

— Sabrina Romanoff. PsyD

In contrast, food security could improve mental and physical health. “I expect this executive order to decrease hospitalizations due to malnutrition, illness, and severe iron-deficiency anemia acutely and longitudinally, and concurrently, reduce the per capita cost of health care,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California's largest outpatient mental health organization.

Magavi continues, “Food stamps can address health disparities by improving individuals’ mood states, which lead to improved productivity and financial autonomy.” 

On top of the increase in the monetary supplement for lost school lunches, children stand to benefit tremendously from SNAP expanding. A stressed parent may displace feelings of frustration or anger on their children.

“This can trigger palpable feelings of guilt, which cause parents to withdraw from their children and further neglect their needs. Children consequently experience an exacerbation of mood, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms," says Magavi. "When parents have resources to alleviate their stress, their children fare better emotionally and physically.”

What This Means For You

Expanding SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs allows more families to have food security and peace of mind about providing for themselves and their families.

“Government resources not only afford tangible opportunities for low-income families but also empower recipients to feel secure, confident, and hopeful about their current financial standing and future," says psychologist Sabrina Romanoff.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. The White House. Fact sheet: President Biden's new executive actions deliver economic relief for American families and businesses amid the COVID-19 crises. Published January 22, 2021.

  2. Food and Nutrition Service. Supplemental nutrition assistance program: pandemic electronic benefits transfer (P-EBT) integrity. Federal Register. Published November 4, 2020.

  3. Czeisler MÉ, Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic - United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:1049–1057. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1

  4. Martin MS, Maddocks E, Chen Y, Gilman SE, Colman I. Food insecurity and mental illness: Disproportionate impacts in the context of perceived stress and social isolation. Public Health. 2016;132:86-91. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2015.11.014