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SNAP Benefits Get Record Boost to Match Hawaiʻi Cost of Living

A cart full of groceries is seen at the check-out counter at a Kroger store in Gahanna, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
FR66830 AP
A cart full of groceries is seen at the check-out counter at a Kroger store in Gahanna, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Starting Oct. 1, families across the country receiving SNAP benefits will see an average increase of $36 per person, per month.

But Hawaiʻi residents could see more aid than most, said Brian Donohoe, administrator for the Benefit, Employment, and Support Services Division at the Hawaiʻi Department of Human Services. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but you might know it better by its old name: food stamps.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reevaluated the benefit amounts for high-cost states like Hawaiʻi, Donohoe said. Under the Thrifty Food Plan, a single person in Hawaiʻi will receive $97 more per month.

"So the maximum benefit for a single individual in the state of Hawaiʻi on the Thrifty Food Plan, if they have no income and are getting the maximum benefit, formerly would be $375. Under the new plan, come Oct. 1 with the change, it will be $472," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Donohoe says the increase for Hawaiʻi is long overdue. This is the first time a reevaluation has occurred since the food plans were created in the late 1970s, the USDA said.

"This is the largest increase in this program in 45 years. That's a 26% increase for a single individual, which is significant," he said.

More people are on the program than ever before. Throughout 2019, the number of recipients hovered around 155,000.

Due to the pandemic, the number of local recipients has grown by more than 30%, according to the department. From March 2020 to July 2021, the program added 50,000 more recipients. As of July, there are 206,226 monthly SNAP recipients.

"In some regards, we are as surprised as most because, on the surface, we see signs that the economy is improving," Donohoe said. "I think part of it points to those individuals that are underemployed and their hours have been reduced, so they still qualify from a financial perspective."

"Keep in mind though, that if they are qualifying for SNAP, they typically aren't qualifying for unemployment insurance benefits. Most of those are counted dollar for dollar in terms of income. So what it tells me is that they have rolled off of the unemployment insurance rolls and remain on my rolls for SNAP benefits," he added.

For more information on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, click here. This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 24, 2021.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Contact her at sharrimanpote@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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