March is the first month in three years that Louisiana Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients will receive their regular benefit amount without the pandemic-related extra benefits they have received since March 2020. SNAP households received their final round of extra benefits (also known as Emergency Allotments) in February, following passage of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which ended funding for these benefits. SNAP emergency allotments had allowed households to receive the maximum SNAP benefit amount for their household size, with a minimum supplemental allotment of $95.
With the extra benefits coming to an end, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is encouraging SNAP households to report any changes in their household size, income and/or expenses, as certain changes could result in an increase to their regular benefit amount. SNAP households with unmet food needs are also encouraged to reach out to organizations like LA 211, food banks, and religious organizations to see what other assistance might be available to them.
SNAP recipients can review their regular benefit amount by viewing the customized letter DCFS sent to each SNAP household in February, checking their online CAFE accounts at www.dcfs.la.gov/CAFE, accessing their accounts through the LifeinCheck smartphone app, or by calling the LAHelpU Customer Service Center at 1-888-LA-HELP-U (1-888-524-3578) and following the prompts.
Once a SNAP household has reviewed their regular benefit amount, the next step is to ensure the household's information with DCFS is up-to-date. Any increase in household size, decrease in income, or increase in costs associated with housing, child care, or court-ordered child support may result in an increase in the monthly benefit amount for the household. Those who are elderly or disabled should also report any increases in medical expenses. These changes can be reported online through the CAFE portal, by phone at 1-888-LA-HELP-U (1-888-524-3578), or in person at a DCFS office.
"We know after three years these extra benefits became the 'new normal' for many of our families who struggle with food insecurity," said DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks. "We want to help these households understand the change and maximize their food assistance in any way they can. We also want to make them aware they can contact 211 and to find other resources available in their communities."
Households in need of additional resources may apply for WIC, visit food banks, participate in programs such as Greaux the Good's Market Match at participating farmers markets, or contact 211 to find information about food assistance and other resources that may be available to them.
Expanding SNAP Eligibility for Families
During the three-year period Emergency Allotments were issued, DCFS expanded SNAP eligibility for families and effectively doubled Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. DCFS also received approval to implement a Standard Medical Deduction for individuals over 60 or with disabilities, beginning in April 2023.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DCFS implemented Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) on April 15, 2020, allowing SNAP to use the State TANF resource eligibility rule of excluding resources (i.e., stocks, bonds, cash, certificates of deposit, and bank accounts) from eligibility consideration, enabling a greater number of households to be eligible for SNAP assistance. BBCE was then expanded on July 1, 2022, increasing the SNAP income threshold from 130% to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The increase to 200% of FPL assists households in avoiding "benefit cliffs" as families' wages increase, whereas a minor rise in earnings under the standard 130% FPL might result in a loss of SNAP benefits for families. Under BBCE, the increase to 200% of the FPL alleviates these "benefit cliffs" by increasing the maximum gross monthly eligibility standard.
Under the Standard Medical Deduction, individuals over 60 or with disabilities who have health expenses exceeding $35 (but less than $196) will be able to claim a medical deduction of $161. This will decrease the net income they report as part of their SNAP calculation, ultimately increasing their SNAP benefits.
DCFS also effectively doubled TANF benefits. The monthly benefit amount for a three-person household under the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP) has increased from $240 to the national average of $484, while the monthly benefit amount for eligible children under the Kinship Care Subsidy Program (KCSP) has increased from $222 to $450. FITAP benefits help to reduce long-term reliance on social support by encouraging job preparation and employment, while KCSP benefits help alleviate relative caregivers of the financial burden of caring for a child whose parents are not present.
Since March 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act has authorized states to issue Emergency Allotments to SNAP households to help address temporary food needs and ease economic stress during the pandemic. States were authorized to issue these extra benefits alongside the regular SNAP benefits households receive each month, as long as a state's emergency or disaster declaration and the federal Public Health Emergency remained active. Although Louisiana's Public Health Emergency Order ended in March 2022, Governor John Bel Edwards signed Executive Order JBE 2022-10, which allowed DCFS to continue issuing Emergency Allotments through February 2023, making it one of just 28 states to do so.
"It's important to note Louisiana's continuation of COVID emergency allotments over the past three years had a huge impact, not just on SNAP households, but on the state's economy as a whole," Ricks said.
In addition to the projected loss of $770 million in benefits to Louisiana families over the remainder of 2023, the expiration of Emergency Allotments is expected to result in an estimated $1.2 billion decline in Louisiana's GDP and the potential loss of 16,089 jobs supported by spending associated with SNAP.
DCFS is encouraging the public to support organizations who help fill the gaps for Louisiana families when they need it most. Additional information regarding the end of Emergency Allotments can be found on the DCFS Emergency Allotment FAQs webpage or on the USDA Food and Nutrition Services Changes to SNAP Benefit Amounts - 2023 webpage.