Pa. SNAP enrollment is at a record high, likely driven by policy changes and inflation
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called SNAP or food stamps, reached a record level in June in Pennsylvania, surpassing its previous early pandemic record high.
More than 1,982,000 Pennsylvanians were enrolled in the program as of June, according to the most recent statistics shared by the state.
As to why enrollment would be so high at a time of record low unemployment, advocates and experts interviewed by WESA had several theories.
Among them: a policy change last year allowed people with higher incomes — up to 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $4,626 monthly for a family of four— to enroll in the program, making more people eligible for assistance; changes during the pandemic that made it possible to enroll in the program by phone as opposed to in person; and continuing inflation.
“It's one thing after another that prices seem to be going up,” said Chris West, director of Community Connections at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “And we hear inflation a lot. We've been hearing that for a year, of folks really struggling with the rising cost of everything. So, yeah, that is definitely a factor.”
Food price inflation has declined from 2022, but was still more than 4% in June compared to a year ago, according to the federal government.
Ann Sanders, a policy advocate at nonprofit Just Harvest, said high SNAP usage also likely reflects that wages aren’t keeping up with inflation.
“I think it's a really strong indicator that wages are just not high enough," Sanders said. “You know, I think there's a lot of concern that the higher wages are causing inflation or things like that. But at the end of the day, people's wages are not keeping up with inflation and they aren't keeping up with meeting their basic needs.”
Nationally, the number of SNAP participants is up about 14% compared to prior to the pandemic; in Pennsylvania, it’s up by about 12% from pre-pandemic levels.
To learn more about if you qualify for SNAP: www.compass.state.pa.us or call the consumer service center at 1-866-550-4355.