Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are now getting emergency benefit increases totaling $2 billion a month nationwide that Congress authorized to address the unemployment surge and economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Last Friday, Hawaii became the last of the 50 states to be approved for the emergency allotment, which increases total benefits by 40%.

The latest data available from the Agriculture Department show 37.1 million people were on SNAP in January and received benefits totaling $4.5 billion that month. 

The emergency allotment has the effect of ensuring that all families get the maximum SNAP benefit. 

For example, according to USDA, the maximum benefit for a household with two adults, three children and no income is $768 a month. Reportable income and other factors would normally reduce the benefit for a household to $529, but emergency benefits would provide the average household that size an additional $240 a month. 

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The emergency increase was authorized by a COVID-19 relief bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted in March. 

“These are unprecedented times for American families who are facing joblessness and hunger. USDA is providing a 40% increase in SNAP benefits to ensure that low-income individuals have enough food to feed themselves and their families during this national emergency,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

Congressional Democrats have also been pushing for a temporary across-the-board increase in basic SNAP benefits, but have so far been rebuffed by Republicans. 

By leaving the SNAP increase out of a coronavirus relief bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday, Congress "missed an opportunity ... to help ensure every family has enough to eat," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, which advocates on food policy.

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