USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs:
February 12, 2021
Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Randy Alison Aussenberg
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) programs
Specialist in Nutrition
are often part of emergency response efforts, providing foods for distribution, additional
Assistance Policy
benefits for redemption, and program flexibilities. During the Coronavirus Disease 2019

(COVID-19) pandemic, access to food—particularly in light of increased unemployment Kara Clifford Billings
and closures of institutions that households rely on for food, such as schools—has been
Analyst in Social Policy
a concern for many people. Some observers also view the programs, particularly the

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as a means of economic stimulus.
This report discusses related provisions of four laws enacted in the 116th Congress that

supplement FNS’s prior response to the COVID-19 pandemic with new funds and authorities:
 Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA; P.L. 116-127, enacted March 18, 2020);
 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136, enacted March 27,
2020);
 Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (P.L. 116-159, enacted October 1,
2020) (“FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act”); and
 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Division N, Title VII (P.L. 116-260, enacted December
27, 2020) (“FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act”).
This report also includes the Biden Administration announcement that, under an executive order, USDA wil
change the implementation of some of these laws’ provisions.
Within SNAP, the COVID-19 pandemic response laws have al owed for certain changes to eligibility and benefit
amounts. Among other changes, FFCRA authorized an option for states to increase households’ benefits up to the
maximum amount. More recently, P.L. 116-260 increased the maximum benefit amount by 15% for January
through June 2021. In addition, the laws al owed for a variety of administrative flexibilities; for instance,
provisions designed to make it easier for states to manage the recertification of participating households during
social distancing. The laws also provided additional funding for benefits and specified grants for other SNAP and
related functions.
The pandemic response laws supplemented the block grant funding for Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. These territories do not operate SNAP, but rather their own
nutrition assistance programs using block grant funding.
FFCRA first established the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, and subsequent pandemic
response laws expanded it. This program provides SNAP-like benefits to households, serving as replacements for
meals that normal y would have been provided in schools and, following expansion of the program, in child care
centers.
The pandemic response laws have also enabled changes within institution-based child nutrition programs,
including school and summer meals programs. The pandemic response for these programs has included an
expansion of USDA’s ability to waive child nutrition program requirements, the temporary ability for providers to
serve free meals to al children, and a new program to cover financial losses for meal providers.
The laws have also provided supplemental appropriations for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In addition, they gave USDA authority to issue a wide variety of program
waivers, including changes to benefit issuance, product availability, and physical presence requirements.
Congressional Research Service


USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Supplemental funding was provided to programs that distribute USDA-purchased commodities. The Emergency
Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides federal y purchased foods and administrative funds to states for
distribution to emergency feeding organizations, including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Three of
the pandemic response laws together provided over $1.2 bil ion to TEFAP. Smal er amounts were also provided
for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and the Commodity Supplemental Food
Program (CSFP).
In addition to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through its existing nutrition assistance programs, USDA
launched two new programs to feed people on a temporary basis: (1) the Farmers to Families Food Box program,
initial y funded under the FFCRA, which has provided food boxes to individuals and households; and (2) the
Emergency Meals to You program, which provided food boxes to households with school-aged children in rural
areas. FNS also activated emergency food distribution programs in certain states and tribal nations during the
early months of the pandemic.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 6 link to page 7 link to page 10 link to page 10 link to page 10 link to page 11 link to page 12 link to page 12 link to page 13 link to page 13 link to page 14 link to page 14 link to page 14 link to page 15 link to page 15 link to page 16 link to page 16 link to page 17 link to page 18 link to page 18 link to page 19 link to page 20 link to page 20 link to page 20 link to page 20 link to page 20 link to page 21 link to page 21 link to page 21 link to page 22 link to page 22 link to page 23 link to page 23 link to page 24 link to page 25 link to page 8 link to page 8 link to page 11 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Funding Overview........................................................................................................... 2
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ............................................................ 5
SNAP Benefit Increases and Waivers ............................................................................ 5
Emergency Allotment Increases .............................................................................. 5
Temporary 15% Increase to Maximum Monthly Benefits ........................................... 6
Administrative Flexibilities .................................................................................... 7
Excluding Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation from SNAP Income ................ 7
SNAP Work-Related and Student Eligibility Rules.......................................................... 8
Work-Related Requirements .................................................................................. 8
Student Eligibility ................................................................................................ 9
SNAP-Related Funding .............................................................................................. 9
Funds in the CARES Act ....................................................................................... 9
Funds in the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act ............................................ 10
Nutrition Assistance Funding for Certain Territories ........................................................... 10
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) .................................................................. 11
Establishment of P-EBT ........................................................................................... 11
P-EBT Extension and Expansion................................................................................ 12
Child Nutrition Programs ............................................................................................... 13
Overview of Changes to Existing Programs and Waiver Authorities ................................ 13
Supplemental Funding for Child Nutrition Programs ..................................................... 14
New Program to Cover Financial Losses of School District and Child Care Meal
Providers ............................................................................................................. 15
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) ................. 15
Additional Funding .................................................................................................. 15
Waivers.................................................................................................................. 15
Task Force.............................................................................................................. 16
Food Distribution Programs ............................................................................................ 16
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)...................................................... 16
Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) .......................................... 17
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) ......................................................... 17

Other USDA Initiatives .................................................................................................. 18
Farmers to Families Food Box Program ...................................................................... 18
Emergency Meals to You .......................................................................................... 19
Disaster Household Distribution ................................................................................ 20

Tables
Table 1. Supplemental Appropriations for USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs to
Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic .............................................................................. 3
Table 2. 15% Increase to SNAP Maximum Monthly Benefits, January-June 2021 ..................... 6

Congressional Research Service

link to page 26 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 21

Congressional Research Service

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Introduction
The ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has increased food insecurity1 in
the United States, as households face unemployment and closure of institutions, like schools, that
many Americans rely on for food. Data indicate that the percentage of individuals reporting they
do not have enough to eat more than tripled between 2019 and 2020. According to Census data
collected between December 9 and December 21, 2020, 13.7% of U.S. adults reported that they
sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past week, compared to 3.7% of adults in
2019, as reported by USDA.2 Prior to the pandemic, food insecurity rates had been improving
since the Great Recession.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) programs have been
seen as a critical component to combatting food insecurity during the pandemic. At the same
time, they have had to adjust to unprecedented administrative chal enges, such as how to enroll
households in benefits remotely and how to reach people who were previously served in
institutional settings. Increasing households’ food purchasing power may also be a means of
economic stimulus.3 The response of FNS programs to the COVID-19 pandemic has been shaped
by new federal laws as wel as USDA, states, and providers working under the parameters of the
laws.
This report discusses related provisions of four laws that supplement FNS’s COVID-19 pandemic
response with new funds and authorities:
 Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA; P.L. 116-127, enacted March
18, 2020);
 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136,
enacted March 27, 2020);
 Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (P.L. 116-159,
enacted October 1, 2020) (“FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act”); and
 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Division N, Title VII (P.L. 116-260,
enacted December 27, 2020) (“FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act”).4

1 USDA defines food insecurity “ lack[ing] access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household
members.” It is a broader measure than the data on “not having enough to eat” discussed in this paragraph. For further
information about food insecurity, see A. Coleman-Jensen, M.P. Rabbitt, and C.A. Gregory, Household Food Security
in the United States in 2019
, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service, September 2020, p.
3, https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=99281.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, “Week 21 Household Pulse Survey: December 9 – December 21: T able 2b. Food Sufficiency for
Households, in the Last 7 Days, by Select Characteristics,” January 6, 2021, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/
demo/hhp/hhp21.html. CRS divided the number of adults reporting sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the
last seven days by the total number of adults minus those who did not report their food sufficiency status. For 2019
figures, see A. Coleman-Jensen, M.P. Rabbitt, and C.A. Gregory, Household Food Security in the United States in
2019
, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service, September 2020, p. 3,
https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=99281.
3 Patrick Canning and Rosanna Mentzer Morrison, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy
and Jobs,” Am ber Waves Magazine, July 18, 2019, https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2019/july/quantifying-the-
impact -of-snap-benefits-on-the-us-economy-and-jobs/.
4 In between P.L. 116-136 and P.L. 116-260, the House passed two COVID-19 pandemic response bills that were not
taken up by the Senate. Each of these contained domestic food assistance provisions. T his CRS report only discusses
enacted laws.
Congressional Research Service

1

link to page 8 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

This report also discusses recent Biden Administration plans to change the administration of some
of the policies included in these laws. On January 22, 2021, President Biden signed an executive
order requiring federal agencies to “promptly identify actions they can take within existing
authorities to address the current economic crisis resulting from the pandemic.”5 On that date, the
White House and USDA, pursuant to this executive order, announced plans to change the
implementation of certain provisions of the enacted COVID-19 pandemic response laws,
particularly through increasing certain benefit amounts.6
The report also discusses some FNS actions taken to facilitate nutrition assistance program
operations during the pandemic, including waivers of program requirements and new USDA
initiatives to respond to food needs.7
Discussion of these laws and actions is organized by program in the sections to follow (e.g.,
SNAP policies in the four acts are discussed within the same section).
USDA FNS COVID-19 Pandemic Response Website
FNS has maintained a website throughout the pandemic that provides a hub for its pandemic guidance and
resources: https://www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.
Many of the policies discussed in this report vary state-by-state. For example, not every state applied for every
available program waiver. The website shows which options a particular state is implementing, or al ows users to
check how common a particular option is.
For nearly every statutory provision, FNS has issued guidance, including question -and-answer documents that
elaborate upon the requirements in law. The website is a resource for consulting these further policy details.
In some cases, FNS has offered program flexibilities under existing authority. For example, the Commodity
Supplemental Food Program offered new COVID-19 pandemic flexibilities without policy changes in the pandemic
response laws. The FNS website is a place to check on program operations aside from those enacted in the new
laws.
Funding Overview
The COVID-19 pandemic response laws included supplemental funding for USDA nutrition
assistance programs. Some of this funding was a finite, specified amount. In other cases, open-
ended funding was authorized and appropriated in such sums as necessary. A specific ceiling was
not provided in the laws for the open-ended funding. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
has estimated or is to estimate how that funding is expected to impact direct spending, but those
estimates do not dictate a ceiling or floor to the spending. Table 1 provides an overview of the
funding provided by the laws, and related policies are discussed in subsequent sections. Open-
ended funding and CBO scores, when available, are noted but the totals in the table reflect only
the finite funding provided. While the pandemic response laws did not designate funds

5 Executive Order 14002, “Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” 86 Federal Register 7229-7230,
January 22, 2021.
6 T he White House, “Fact Sheet: President Biden’s New Executive Actions Deliver Economic Relief for American
Families and Businesses Amid the COVID-19 Crises,” press release, January 22, 202 1, https://www.whitehouse.gov/
briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/22/fact-sheet-president -bidens-new-executive-actions-deliver-economic-
relief-for-american-families-and-businesses-amid-the-covid-19-crises/; USDA, “ Biden Administration Expands P -EBT
to Benefit Millions of Low-Income and Food Insecure Children During Pandemic: USDA Says SNAP Benefits Are
Inadequate for Most Participants and Begins Process to Extend Emergency Allotments to States and Update T hrifty
Food Plan Formula,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-item/usda-001521. USDA also
announced an update to the T hrifty Food Plan; this an implementation of an earlier, non -pandemic-response law, the
2018 farm bill (P.L. 115-334).
7 USDA, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), “FNS Responds to COVID-19,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.
Congressional Research Service

2

link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

specifical y for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, USDA used the funds listed for this
purpose.
In the case of P.L. 116-159 and P.L. 116-260, the table only displays the relevant policies and
provisions in the divisions noted. These two laws included a continuation of annual funding and
FY2021 appropriations for FNS programs respectively, but these funding levels are not included
in the table or this report.
Table 1. Supplemental Appropriations for USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs to
Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic
(Dol ars in mil ions)

FY2021
FY2021
Continuing
Consolidated
Appropriations
Appropriations
Act
Act
FFCRA
CARES Act
(P.L. 116-159),
(P.L. 116-260),
(P.L. 116-127)
(P.L. 116-136)
Division D
Division N
(March 18,
(March 27,
(October 1,
(December 27,
Nutrition Assistance Program
2020)
2020)
2020)
2020)
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program



(SNAP) account


Pandemic EBT
Open-ended
Open-ended
Open-ended
fundinga

fundingb
fundingc
SNAP time limit suspension,
Open-ended

emergency al otments
fundingd



SNAP contingency reserve

$15,510


SNAP administrative flexibilities
Open-ended



fundingb
SNAP administrative expenses



$100
SNAP 15% increase, income exclusion,

Open-ended
and student provisions


fundingc
SNAP online purchasing



5
Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico,
$100
$200

$614
American Samoa
Food Distribution Program on Indian

$100
Reservations


Child Nutrition Programs

$8,800 Open-ended
Open-ended
funding for
funding for new
waiversb
program
optione,c
The Emergency Food Assistance Programf
$400
$450
$400
(TEFAP)

Commodity Supplemental Food Program

$13g
(CSFP)



Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
$500
Open-ended
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
funding for

waivers

Congressional Research Service

3

link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic


FY2021
FY2021
Continuing
Consolidated
Appropriations
Appropriations
Act
Act
FFCRA
CARES Act
(P.L. 116-159),
(P.L. 116-260),
(P.L. 116-127)
(P.L. 116-136)
Division D
Division N
(March 18,
(March 27,
(October 1,
(December 27,
Nutrition Assistance Program
2020)
2020)
2020)
2020)
Farmers to Families Food Box Program
Open-ended
$500i

$1,500j
funding for
USDA food
purchasesh
Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive

$70
Program (GuSNIP)



Total (not including open-ended
(only open
funding estimates)
$900
$25,560
ended)
$2,632
Source: Compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on the specified laws. Congressional
Budget Office cost estimates for H.R. 6201 (April 2, 2020); H.R. 748 (April 16, 2020); H.R. 8337 (September 23,
2020); and H.R. 133, P.L. 116-260, Division N (January 14, 2021).
Notes: Al funding in this table is designated as emergency and does not count against budget caps. Emergency
Meals to You funding is included in the Child Nutrition Program row. Funding for the Disaster Household
Distribution program is not available and not included in the table.
a. In addition to the specified supplemental amounts for the SNAP account in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136),
FFCRA (P.L. 116-127, §1101) authorized and appropriated open-ended funding for the Pandemic Electronic
Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.
b. For al open-ended mandatory funding nutrition provisions in P.L. 116-159 listed in the table, CBO
estimated a total of $8.063 bil ion in budget authority for FY2021 and $8.121 bil ion for the 10-year budget
window (FY2021-FY2030).
c. CBO has estimated that P.L. 116-260, Division N, Title VII (Nutrition and Agriculture Relief) provisions
increase direct spending by $24.917 bil ion in budget authority for FY2021 and $25.697 bil ion for the 10-
year budget window (FY2021-FY2030). These estimates include nutrition and agriculture provisions, and
include open-ended and capped funding.
d. CBO estimated that together these changes would increase open-ended spending for benefits by a total of
$21.2 bil ion in FY2020 and FY2022. The provision did not appropriate this funding.
e. P.L. 116-260 provided open-ended mandatory funding for a program to cover a proportion of financial
losses experienced by some child nutrition program providers during the early months of the pandemic.
f.
States may use up to $100 mil ion of the funding provided by P.L. 116-127, up to $150 mil ion of the funding
provided by P.L. 116-136, and up to 20% ($80 mil ion) of the funding provided by P.L. 116-260 for food
storage and distribution costs.
g. Up to 20% ($2.6 mil ion) of the funding may be used for state administrative expenses.
h. This funding was for USDA to “purchase commodities for emergency distribution in any area of the Un ited
States during a public health emergency designation” in FY2020 (P.L. 116-127, §1101(g)). Using this
authority, USDA spent nearly $4 bil ion on the first three rounds of the Farmers to Families Food Box
Program.
i.
USDA used $500 mil ion in unobligated funds for the Office of the Agricultural Secretary from the CARES
Act (P.L. 116-136) for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, according to CRS correspondence with
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on November 19, 2020.
j.
This funding was for USDA “to purchase and distribute agricultural products … to individuals in need,
including through delivery to nonprofit organizations that can receive, store, and distribute food items,”
among other purposes (P.L. 116-260, Division N, §751).
Congressional Research Service

4

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a number of chal enges for SNAP. To address the economic
downturn and increased unemployment, the laws have included temporary benefit increases as
wel as a requirement for the partial suspension of certain work-related eligibility rules. The laws
also have granted USDA authority to offer administrative flexibilities to SNAP state agencies,
responding to the constraints of social distancing, remote work, and higher rates of new SNAP
participants.
FY2020 participation and spending data for SNAP reflects increases in participation and spending
during the pandemic.8 Focusing on participation in March 2020 (the month the pandemic was
declared) through September 2020 (the end of the fiscal year), a monthly average of 41.7 mil ion
people received SNAP benefits, as compared to the first months of FY2020 (October 2019
through February 2020) when an average of 37.3 mil ion people received SNAP benefits.
Program costs were $60.4 bil ion in FY2019 and $78.9 bil ion in FY2020, an $18.5 bil ion (31%)
increase for the full year.
SNAP’s funding is largely open-ended mandatory appropriations. To the extent to which the
COVID-19 pandemic response laws change eligibility for SNAP benefits or the calculation of
those benefits, the laws create the budget authority to expend already appropriated funds for those
benefits. In some cases, supplemental funding for policies was appropriated within the same law
authorizing a change in policy; in others, funding was provided for the purpose in subsequent
laws. These issues are discussed below.
SNAP Benefit Increases and Waivers
Emergency Allotment Increases
FFCRA provided for temporary SNAP benefit increases during the public health emergency.9 The
law required USDA to grant SNAP state agencies’ requests that are supported “with sufficient
data (as determined by [USDA]).” The increases are “to address temporary food needs not greater
than the applicable maximum monthly al otment for the household size.” As of December 2020,
al 53 SNAP state agencies were providing these emergency al otments.
During the Trump Administration, USDA’s interpretation was that the increase is available for
any household who would otherwise have been eligible for less than the maximum benefit. These
households then receive the maximum benefit amount. Under this interpretation, households
already receiving the maximum al otment do not receive an increase. This interpretation has been
the subject of litigation.10

8 Data in this paragraph is from USDA, FNS, Keydata Report (September 2020 data), available at
https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/january-keydata-report -september-2020-data.
9 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I, §1101(a). This provision is authorized only when both federal and state
emergencies are in place, specifically: “in the event of a public health emergency declaration by the Secretary of Health
and Human Services under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act based on an outbreak of coronavirus disease
2019 (COVID-19) and the issuance of an emergency or disaster declaration by a St ate based on an outbreak of
COVID-19.” (emphasis added).
10 See, for example, Gilliam vs. United States Dep't of Agric., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166171 at 1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 11,
2020), Hall v. United States Dep't of Agric., 467 F.Supp.3d (N.D. Cal. June 17, 20 20). See also Kate Giammarise,
“'Just Scraping By’: Families in PA Waiting on Additional Food Stamps as Court Fight Continues,” WESA, December
3, 2020, https://www.wesa.fm/post/just-scraping-families-pa-waiting-additional-food-stamps-court -fight -
Congressional Research Service

5

link to page 11 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Under the Biden Administration’s January 22 executive order, USDA announced it is reviewing
its authority to al ow states to provide emergency al otments on top of the maximum benefit to
those households eligible for the maximum benefit under the pre-pandemic authorizing law.11
Temporary 15% Increase to Maximum Monthly Benefits
The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided the authority and funding for a 15%
increase to FY2021 maximum SNAP benefit amounts for January through June 2021.12
Table 2 displays the temporary maximum benefit amounts for households in 48 states and the
District of Columbia based on household size, under this January-June 2021 increase.13 As
discussed above, under the Trump Administration’s implementation of the emergency al otments,
virtual y al SNAP participants are receiving the maximum benefit. If the Biden Administration
changes this emergency al otment policy, it is possible that some households might receive SNAP
assistance at greater amounts than those displayed here; these details have not been released as of
the date of this report.
This provision also requires USDA to carry out the temporary increase in particular ways,
al owing flexibility for states.14 For example, USDA is to require a simple process for states to
notify households of the increase, and errors in the implementation of this section are not to be
included in the calculation of a state’s payment error rate.
Table 2. 15% Increase to SNAP Maximum Monthly Benefits, January-June 2021
48 States and the District of Columbia
FY2021 Maximum Benefit
Maximum Benefit Under
Before Increase
Temporary Increase
Household Size
(October 1 – December 31, 2020)
(January 1, 2021-June 30, 2021)
1
$204
$234
2
$374
$430
3
$535
$616
4
$680
$782
5
$807
$929
6
$969
$1,114

continues#stream/0.
11 T he White House, “Fact Sheet: President Biden’s New Executive Actions Deliver Economic Relief for American
Families and Businesses Amid the COVID-19 Crises,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/
briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/22/fact-sheet-president -bidens-new-executive-actions-deliver-economic-
relief-for-american-families-and-businesses-amid-the-covid-19-crises/; U.S. Department of Agriculture, “ Biden
Administration Expands P -EBT to Benefit Millions of Low-Income and Food Insecure Children During Pandemic:
USDA Says SNAP Benefits Are Inadequate for Most Participants and Begins Process to Extend Emerge ncy Allotments
to States and Update T hrifty Food Plan Formula,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-
item/usda-001521.
12 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §702(a).
13 Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands each have higher FY2021 benefit amounts and therefore higher
amounts under the temporary increase. USDA, FNS, SNAP-Tem porary Increase in Maxim um Allotm ents due to
COVID-19
, Memo to All State Agencies, December 28, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource-
files/SNAP%20T emp%20Increase%20in%20Max%20Allotments%20COVID_12.28.20.pdf .
14 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §702(b).
Congressional Research Service

6

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

FY2021 Maximum Benefit
Maximum Benefit Under
Before Increase
Temporary Increase
Household Size
(October 1 – December 31, 2020)
(January 1, 2021-June 30, 2021)
7
$1,071
$1,232
8
$1,224
$1,408
Each additional person
$153
$176
Source: USDA, FNS, SNAP-Temporary Increase in Maximum Al otments due to COVID-19, Memo to Al State
Agencies, December 28, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource-files/
SNAP%20Temp%20Increase%20in%20Max%20Al otments%20COVID_12.28.20.pdf.
Notes: Alaska, Guam, Hawai , and the U.S. Virgin Islands each have higher FY2021 benefit amounts and
therefore higher amounts under the temporary increase. See the memo cited in the source for these benefit
amounts.
Administrative Flexibilities
FFCRA al owed USDA to adjust (through guidance and based on states’ requests) administrative
requirements like benefit issuance and household reporting requirements.15 In initial y
implementing this provision, USDA offered and extended blanket waivers for states’
recertification requirements, providing additional flexibility on interview timelines, certification
periods, and protocols for the program’s Quality Control system, a state-federal system
established to measure payment accuracy in the program. Beginning in July and August 2020,
USDA declined states’ requests to continue these waivers.16
The FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act required USDA to extend specified administrative
flexibilities, creating a variety of administrative flexibilities for states to operate SNAP,
particularly in recertifying currently participating households.17 Examples of these state options
include extending certification periods for households whose SNAP benefits are set to expire on
or before June 30, 2021, and al owing simplified reporting requirements for SNAP households
with recertification set to expire on or before December 31, 2021. States are required to notify
USDA of their selected options, but the options are not subject to USDA approval. The provision
also authorized and appropriated open-ended mandatory funding for these policy changes.
Excluding Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation from
SNAP Income
The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act excluded Federal Pandemic Unemployment
Compensation (FPUC) payments from being counted as income or resources in SNAP
applications.18 It also provided the associated open-ended funding for benefit increases.

15 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I, §1101(b).
16 See, for example, Julie Zauzmer, “USDA will end coronavirus exception, making SNAP recipients prove their
income again to get food stamps,” Washington Post, July 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/
07/31/usda-will-end-coronavirus-exception-making-snap-recipients-prove-their-income-again-keep-getting-food-
stamps/.
17 P.L. 116-159, Division D, T itle VI, §4603(a).
18 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §702(d). FPUC is summarized in CRS In Focus IF11723, Unemployment
Insurance Provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Division N, Title II, Subtitle A, the Continued
Assistance for Unem ployed Workers Act of 2020)
, by Katelin P. Isaacs and Julie M. Whittaker.
Congressional Research Service

7

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many of the COVID-19 pandemic response laws contained expansions and extensions of
unemployment insurance.19 The SNAP exclusion in the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act
applies to a portion of the payments, the “pandemic unemployment compensation” payments,
which are the additional $300 per week provided under this law, and enacted earlier in the
CARES Act at $600 per week. Until the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, these
payments were counted as income for SNAP households.
SNAP eligibility and benefit calculation is primarily determined using a household’s gross
income and, in some states, resources (also cal ed assets) are counted as wel . Gross income is all
household income with the exception of a limited list of income sources that are excluded in
statute. Prior to the change made by the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, al
unemployment insurance was counted as income in a household SNAP application. The change is
to expand SNAP eligibility for some, but not al , households receiving unemployment insurance
income.
SNAP Work-Related and Student Eligibility Rules
Work-Related Requirements
SNAP’s authorizing law has long included work-related eligibility requirements, the strictest
being a time limit for nondisabled adults (ages 18 to 49) without dependents (ABAWDs) who
work less than 80 hours per month.20 FFCRA partial y suspended this time limit nationwide
during the period of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ public health emergency
declaration, al owing new and continuing participants who would have lost eligibility due to the
time limit to continue to receive benefits.21
Separately, on March 13, 2020, a federal court temporarily blocked part of a December 2019
USDA final rule that would have narrowed states’ authority to waive the time limit, and which
would have taken effect in part on April 1.22 The court acknowledged that the global pandemic
highlighted the need to provide government officials with flexibility to address their constituents ’
nutritional needs “and ensure their wel -being through programs like SNAP.”23 Following the
preliminary injunction, on October 18, 2020, the court struck down the rule in its entirety.24

19 See “Enacted Laws in the 116th Congress” in CRS Report R45478, Unemployment Insurance: Legislative Issues in
the 116th Congress
, by Julie M. Whittaker and Katelin P. Isaacs.
20 T ime limits are summarized in CRS Report R42505, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): A Primer
on Eligibility and Benefits
.
21 P.L. 116-127, Division B, T itle III, §2301. FNS guidance, March 20, 2020, available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/
snap/ffcra-impact -time-limit-abawds. Regarding public health emergency background, see https://www.crs.gov/
Reports/R46219.
22 District of Columbia v. United States Dep't of Agric, 444 F. Supp. 3d, 1, 6-7 (D.D.C. 2020).
23 Ibid at 5.
24 District of Columbia, et al. v. United States Dep't of Agric, __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 192508 at 5 -11
(D.D.C. Oct. 18, 2020). On December 16, 2020, the T rump Administration appealed the District Court decision ( see
House Committee on Agriculture, “Fudge Slams Administration for Appealing ABAWD Ruling,” press release,
December 16, 2020, https://agriculture.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2069). As of the date of
this report, the Biden Administration has not made any announcements regarding this case.
Congressional Research Service

8

link to page 15 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Student Eligibility
Many students attending higher education less than half-time are also subject to the time limit for
non-disabled adults discussed above. During the pandemic, the suspension enacted by FFCRA
would apply to them. However, students of higher education attending half-time or greater are
subject to a different requirement, a student disqualification rule.25 Students working 20 hours or
more per week, or students meeting one of a list of other exceptions, may be eligible for SNAP
benefits;26 otherwise, students attending half-time or greater are not eligible for SNAP. FFCRA’s
suspension in March 2020 did not suspend the student disqualification rule, leaving the student
disqualification in place for students attending half-time or greater until the FY2021 Consolidated
Appropriations Act was passed in December.
The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act then suspended the student disqualification rule for
certain students during the public health emergency.27 The suspension of the rule applies to
students enrolled at least half-time in an institution of higher education who
 are eligible to participate in a state or federal y financed work study program, or
 have an expected family contribution of $0 on their Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA).
These students would not be subject to the student disqualification rule, but would stil need to
meet SNAP’s other eligibility rules, such as income eligibility.
This provision also requires that the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of
Agriculture and institutions of higher education, carry out activities to inform students of these
temporary student eligibility requirements.
The law appropriates funding for the provision.
SNAP-Related Funding
For the most part, the SNAP provisions discussed above provide such sums as are necessary or
authorize an eligible purpose for funding in the SNAP account. Of the four COVID-19 pandemic
response laws, the CARES Act and FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act appropriated finite
sums of funding for SNAP. These are discussed below.
Funding provided to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands is
discussed in the “Nutrition Assistance Funding for Certain Territories” section.
Funds in the CARES Act
The CARES Act provided $15.8 bil ion for the SNAP account. This includes $15.5 bil ion in
contingency reserve for SNAP participation should earlier budget estimates be exceeded.

25 Section 6(e) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. §2015(e)).
26 Exceptions for students (1) under 18 years old or age 50 or older; (2) disabled; (3) enrolled in school because of
participation in specified programs; (4) employed at least 20 hours per week or participates in a work -study program
during the school year; (5) certain parent (based largely on age of the child); or (6) receiving T ANF benefits.
27 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §702(e). T he provision is in effect for initial applications until 30 days after the
COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. It is in effect for recertification until no earlier than 30 days after the
COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted.
Congressional Research Service

9

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

According to information provided by FNS, the $15.5 bil ion contingency was all obligated in
FY2020. The funds were primarily used to support providing the emergency al otments,
authorized in FFCRA, to SNAP households.28
Funds in the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act
State administrative expenses.29 State administrative costs are typical y shared
50/50 between SNAP state agencies and the federal government. P.L. 116-260
provided $100 mil ion in federal funding for FY2021. This is 100% federal
funding and does not require a match. The provision al ocates the funds
according to a formula that considers primarily the state’s share of SNAP
households and secondarily the increase in the state’s SNAP participation over 12
months.
Additional assistance for SNAP online purchasing and technological
improvements.30 Prior to the pandemic, FNS had begun to pilot online
redemption of SNAP benefits. In the first months of the pandemic, FNS
expanded the number of states able to participate in the pilot; for most of 2020,
large national retailers were able to take part. P.L. 116-260 provided $5 mil ion to
be split among three purposes: (1) additional support for FNS to test systems and
provide technical assistance to retailers; (2) cooperative agreements or grants to
provide assistance to direct-marketing farmers and farmers’ markets; and (3)
issuance innovation and technology improvement support (this includes
development work regarding the mobile technologies projects authorized by the
2014 farm bil and testing methods to modernize EBT).31
Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GuSNIP).32 This program,
administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA),
provides grants for SNAP bonus incentive projects as wel as fruit and vegetable
prescription programs. P.L. 116-260 provided an additional $75 mil ion for
GuSNIP, which USDA is authorized to use to reduce grantees’ match rate, waive
maximum grant amounts, and provide additional funding to ongoing grants.
Nutrition Assistance Funding for Certain Territories
Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands, do not operate a SNAP
program. Instead, they operate programs funded by Nutrition Assistance Program block grants in
lieu of SNAP.33 Whereas SNAP is open-ended mandatory spending and can expand and contract
with economic need, these block grants are limited in their spending without supplemental

28 Email communication with USDA, FNS, October 2020.
29 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §702(c).
30 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §703.
31 Of the $5 million, no more than $1 million may be used for the first purpose and no more than $1 million may be
used for the second purpose.
32 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §755. For program background, see CRS Report R46538, Local and Urban
Food System s: Selected Farm Bill and Other Federal Program s
, by Renée Johnson et al.
33 For program history, see Anne Peterson, Bryan Johnson, and Benjamin E. Moulton et al., Implementing
Supplem ental Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico: A Feasibility Study
, USDA, FNS, June 2010, pp. 7-16,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/implementing-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-puerto-rico-feasibility-study.
Congressional Research Service

10

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

appropriations. The SNAP policies that expand eligibility or increase benefit amounts do not
apply to these territories—they apply to the states or territories that operate SNAP.
FFCRA provided $100 mil ion for grants to these territories for nutrition assistance “in response
to a COVID-19 public health emergency.”34
The CARES Act provided $200 mil ion for these territories’ nutrition programs.
The FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act did not provide additional funding to the nutrition
assistance block grants. However, it did expand the definition of “state” in the Pandemic
Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. Until this change, only jurisdictions operating
SNAP had been authorized and funded to operate the program (P-EBT is discussed further in the
next section).
Most recently, the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $614 mil ion for USDA to
fund nutrition assistance in response to a COVID-19 public health emergency.35 The funds are
available through FY2021, and $14 mil ion is set aside for the Commonwealth of the Northern
Mariana Islands.
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT)
FFCRA established the new P-EBT program, and subsequent laws extended and expanded it.
According to USDA-FNS data, the program issued benefits to an average of 6.9 mil ion people
per month in March through September 2020 and cost $10.7 bil ion.36
Establishment of P-EBT
FFCRA created P-EBT as an option for states to provide a SNAP-like benefit, when a school is
closed five or more days, to households with children who would have received free or reduced-
price school meals if not for the closure.37 The new program was initial y authorized to operate
until September 30, 2020, though it was later extended.38
The benefit amount is equal to at least five days of free meal reimbursements per week. The
Trump Administration authorized this minimum five-day amount. The Biden Administration has
announced that it wil increase P-EBT benefit amounts by 15%.39 January 29, 2021, guidance

34 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I, §1102.
35 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §704.
36 USDA, FNS, Keydata Report (September 2020 data), available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/january-keydata-
report -september-2020-data.
37 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I, Section 1101.
38 T his program was last available in FY2010 (during the H1N1 flu pandemic), having been enacted in an FY2010
appropriations law (P.L. 111-80, §746). It was called P -SNAP in agency guidance at t hat time. However, unlike what is
happening during the current pandemic, no SNAP state agencies ever administered P -SNAP.
39 T he White House, “Fact Sheet: President Biden’s New Executive Actions Deliver Economic Relief for American
Families and Businesses Amid the COVID-19 Crises,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/
briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/22/fact-sheet-president -bidens-new-executive-actions-deliver-economic-
relief-for-american-families-and-businesses-amid-the-covid-19-crises/; U.S. Department of Agriculture, “ Biden
Administration Expands P -EBT to Benefit Millions of Low-Income and Food Insecure Children During Pandemic:
USDA Says SNAP Benefits Are Inadequate for Most Participants and Begins Process to Extend Emergency Allotments
to States and Update T hrifty Food Plan Formula,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-
item/usda-001521.
Congressional Research Service

11

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

shows that the current Administration achieves this increase by including the cost of a free snack
reimbursement, raising the daily rate to $6.82 in the contiguous states.40
Like SNAP, households can use these benefits to purchase groceries at SNAP-authorized retailers.
FFCRA authorized this program for FY2020. FNS’s guidance on the program answers a variety
of questions about program operations.41 In order to identify eligible children and issue benefits,
the P-EBT program is typical y administered as a partnership between a state’s SNAP and child
nutrition agencies.
FFCRA authorized and appropriated open-ended funding for P-EBT. FNS interpreted the
provision as funding 100% of P-EBT benefits and 50% of state administrative costs.42 As
established, the program was only open to jurisdictions operating SNAP. As of July 10, 2020, 50
states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were approved to operate P-EBT in
school year 2019-2020.43
P-EBT Extension and Expansion
Though the program expired September 30, 2020, it was extended shortly thereafter in the
FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act.44 The law extended the program through FY2021.
Among other changes, the FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act expanded the program to
include
 schools with reduced attendance hours due to the pandemic (expanding the
program beyond only closed schools); and
 children in SNAP households enrolled in child care facilities affected by
pandemic closures and reduced hours, as specified in the law.
The FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act also amended the definition of state in the P-EBT
provisions to include Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Following the initial extension and expansion of the program, the FY2021 Consolidated
Appropriations Act included program flexibilities to simplify administration of the potential
expansions beyond closed schools and to young children.45 The law al ows states to deem
children under six years old in households receiving SNAP benefits as eligible for P-EBT. Also,
the law al ows for states to use “best feasibly available” data to determine school closures and
reduced attendance.
According to the FNS website, as of February 2, 2021, nine states and Puerto Rico have been
approved to operate P-EBT for school year 2020-2021, not yet reaching the capacity of the prior

40 Jessica Shahin and Cindy Long, Pandemic EBT - State Plans for 2020-2021, USDA, FNS, Memo to SNAP State
Agencies and Child Nutrition State Agencies, January 29, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource-
files/Pandemic%20EBT %20%E2%80%93%20State%20Plans%20for%202020-
2021%20Schools%20and%20Child%20Care%20January%202021%20Attachment%202%20Template.pdf . Guidance
allows states to increase benefits retroactively for school year 2020-2021.
41 See FNS guidance at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-guidance-coronavirus-pandemic-ebt-pebt.
42 See USDA, FNS, Pandemic EBT (P -EBT ) Questions and Answers, April 15, 2020.
43 Guam is the only SNAP-operating jurisdiction that had not been approved. Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the
Northern Mariana Islands receive block grants for nutrition assistan ce in lieu of SNAP. FNS has interpreted the FFCRA
provision, as originally enacted, as only applying to SNAP jurisdictions.
44 P.L. 116-159, Division D, T itle VI, Section 4601.
45 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §721.
Congressional Research Service

12

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

school year. The Biden Administration published guidance for state plans, including guidance for
implementing the expanded options for the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act.46
Child Nutrition Programs
The federal child nutrition programs include the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and
School Breakfast Program (SBP) (together, the school meals programs), the Summer Food
Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) (together, the summer meals
programs), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), among others.47 The pandemic
response for these programs has included an expansion of USDA’s ability to waive child nutrition
program requirements, the temporary ability for providers to serve free meals to al children, and
a new program to cover financial losses for meal providers.
Overview of Changes to Existing Programs and Waiver Authorities
When schools started closing in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many school
districts and nonprofit organizations began operating the summer meals programs, which, per
existing program regulations and guidance, could operate during “unanticipated school closures”
between October and April with state agency approval (USDA subsequently waived this
requirement for school year 2020-2021).48 Other school districts continued operating the school
meals programs, which USDA clarified could operate during periods of virtual learning.49
Also starting in March 2020, USDA issued waivers of certain child nutrition program
requirements in response to the pandemic. For example, one of the first waivers USDA issued
was to suspend the requirement that children consume meals in group settings.50 USDA issued
some of these initial waivers using authority under Section 12(l) of the Richard B. Russel
National School Lunch Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1760(l)), which gives USDA the authority to
approve waiver requests from state agencies and institutions on a case-by-case basis.51
On March 11, 2020, FFCRA expanded the types of child nutrition program waivers that USDA is
al owed to issue during the pandemic:

46 Resources available at USDA, FNS, “State Guidance on Coronavirus Pandemic EBT (P -EBT ),”
https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-guidance-coronavirus-pandemic-ebt-pebt.
47 For background on child nutrition programs, see CRS Report R46234, School Meals and Other Child Nutrition
Program s: Background and Funding
.
48 For SFSP periods of operation, see, for example, 7 C.F.R. §§225.6(b)(4) and 225.14(a). For SSO periods of
operation, see USDA, FNS, “Comparison of Programs: SFSP/NSLP/Seamless Option,” January 22, 2015, https://fns-
prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/SFSP_SeamlessComparisonChart.pdf. If a school meets the definition of having a
continuous school calendar (7 C.F.R. §225.2), then SFSP or SSO may be operated during an unanticipated school
closure at any time of the year with state agency approval. T he summer meal programs normally operate between May
and September for children on school vacation. USDA, FNS, “ Nationwide Waiver to Allow SFSP and Seamless
Summer Option Operations through SY 2020 -2021 – Extension,” October 9, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/covid-
19-response-59.
49 USDA, FNS, “ COVID-19 Congregate Meal Waivers & Q&As on Summer Meal Delivery Using Existing
Authority,” April 4, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/covid-19/covid-19-meal-delivery.
50 Ibid.
51 Section 12(l) prohibits certain types of waivers, including waivers that increase federal costs, relate to the nutritional
content of meals served, and/or relate to the provision of free and reduced price meals.
Congressional Research Service

13

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

 Section 2102 of FFCRA al ows USDA to grant waivers that increase federal costs
for the purpose of providing meals and snacks during a COVID-19 pandemic-
related school closure. There is no specific expiration date for this authority.
 Section 2202 of FFCRA al ows USDA to issue waivers on a nationwide (rather
than individual state or provider) basis, al ows USDA to waive nutritional
requirements in child nutrition programs if there is a food “supply chain
disruption” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifies that USDA may grant
waivers to al ow non-congregate feeding in CACFP. The waiver authority under
Section 2202 was original y set to expire on September 30, 2020, but was
extended by the FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act through September 30,
2021.52
USDA has used the authority under FFCRA to issue a number of waivers during the pandemic.53
One of these—the area eligibility waiver—al ows school districts and nonprofits to serve free
meals to al children (without eligibility determinations) through the summer meals programs
(normal y, this is only al owed in areas where more than half of children qualify for free or
reduced-price meals).54 USDA provided this option to al states starting on May 6, 2020, and has
continued to al ow free meals to be served through the summer meal programs during school year
2020-2021 (which ends June 30, 2021).55 School districts are not required to participate in this
option and may instead operate the school meals programs, which require eligibility
determinations for free and reduced-price meals, or they may decide not to operate any meals
program.
USDA has also issued national waivers of requirements that meals be served at certain times of
day, rules that meals be served to children (enabling parents/guardians to pick up meals), and
nutritional requirements for meals, among issuing other waivers.56 Many of these waivers have
pertained to multiple child nutrition programs.
Supplemental Funding for Child Nutrition Programs
In addition to policy changes, the COVID-19 pandemic response laws have provided
supplemental funding for child nutrition programs. In March 2020, the CARES Act provided an
$8.8 bil ion supplemental appropriation for these programs.57 At the end of FY2020, FNS had
spent more than $7 bil ion of these funds on meal reimbursements.58 Subsequently, the FY2021
Continuing Appropriations Act provided “such sums as may be necessary” for child nutrition

52 P.L. 116-159, Division D, T itle VI, §4602(a).
53 For a list of child nutrition program waivers that USDA has issued during the pandemic, see USDA FNS, “ Child
Nutrition COVID-19 Waivers,” updated January 8, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/programs/fns-disaster-assistance/
fns-responds-covid-19/child-nutrition-covid-19-waivers.
54 USDA, FNS, “ CN - Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers – Extension,” August 20, 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19/cn-extension-area-eligibility-waivers-september-2020.
55 USDA, FNS, “ Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers – Extension 3,” October 9, 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/covid-19-response-60.
56 USDA, FNS, “ Child Nutrition COVID-19 Waivers,” updated January 8, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/programs/
fns-disaster-assistance/fns-responds-covid-19/child-nutrition-covid-19-waivers.
57 P.L. 116-136, Division B, T itle I.
58 CRS correspondence with FNS in October 2020.
Congressional Research Service

14

link to page 20 USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

waivers issued under Section 2202 of FFCRA and certain WIC waivers in FY2021 (see the
“Waivers” section below).59
New Program to Cover Financial Losses of School District and
Child Care Meal Providers
The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided “such sums as are necessary” for a
program to cover financial losses experienced by some child nutrition program providers during
the early months of the pandemic.60 Specifical y, the program is to reimburse 27.5% of the
difference between meal reimbursements in March 2019 and March 2020 and 55% of the
difference between reimbursements in April, May, and June 2019 and the same months in 2020
for providers participating in the school meals programs and/or CACFP.61 States may opt in to the
program and participating state agencies are al owed to retain 1% of funds for administrative
costs. The law required USDA to issue guidance implementing the program within 30 days of
enactment.62
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Additional Funding
FFCRA provided a $500 mil ion supplemental appropriation, available through FY2021, for
WIC. FNS did not obligate these funds in FY2020 because WIC had an unal ocated balance of
prior-year unspent funds that could be used to support the program in FY2020.63
Waivers
In addition, FFCRA gave USDA further authority to grant waivers al owing WIC participants to
get certified (or recertified) without being physical y present at the WIC clinic (which is normal y
required).64 Waiver requests are to be made by state agencies to USDA. Also, FFCRA authorized
USDA to grant waivers from program administrative requirements that a state determines “cannot
be met due to COVID-19” and are “necessary to provide assistance” under WIC.65 USDA’s
authority to issue these and the physical presence waivers was initial y scheduled to sunset after
September 30, 2020.
For implementation, USDA provided a wide variety of waiver opportunities to states, including
waivers from physical presence and supplemental food package item flexibility. On September

59 P.L. 116-159, Division D, T itle VI, §4602(d).
60 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §722.
61 T he program establishes an alternative process for new providers with no reimbursement data for 2019.
62 USDA, FNS, “ Child Nutrition Program Emergency Operating Costs During COVID-19: Implementation Guidance
for State Agencies,” January 26, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/emergency-operating-costs-during-covid-19-
implementation-guidance.
63 CRS correspondence with FNS, October 2020.
64 P.L. 116-127, Division B, T itle II, §2203.
65 P.L. 116-127, Division B, T itle II, §2204.
Congressional Research Service

15

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

21, 2020 (in advance of the authority’s sunset), USDA announced that it was extending certain
waivers for the duration of the public health emergency.66
Shortly thereafter, the FY2021 Continuing Appropriations Act included an extension of the
FFCRA waiver authorities through September 30, 2021, and provided open-ended funding
authority for the waivers.67
Task Force
The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act required USDA to establish a task force on
supplemental foods delivery in WIC. The task force, with certain representations specified, is to
study measures “to streamline the redemption of supplemental food benefits that promote
convenience, safety, and equitable access.” These include online and telephonic ordering with
curbside pickup and payment; and online and telephonic purchasing, home delivery, and self
checkout. The task force is required to convey its findings and recommendations to the Secretary
of Agriculture by September 30, 2021.
Food Distribution Programs
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP provides federal y purchased foods and administrative funds to states for distribution to
emergency feeding organizations, including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens.68
TEFAP received additional funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic under three of the
response laws, al to remain available through September 30, 2021:
 FFCRA provided $400 mil ion, up to $100 mil ion of which can be used for food
distribution costs;69
 the CARES Act provided $450 mil ion, up to $150 mil ion of which can be used
for food distribution costs;70
 the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided a supplemental
appropriation of $400 mil ion, up to 20% of which ($80 mil ion) can be used for
food distribution costs.71
In total, approximately $1.3 bil ion was appropriated for TEFAP in FY2020, more than triple the
appropriations ($404.1 mil ion) in FY2019.72

66 USDA, FNS, “ USDA Extends WIC COVID-19 Flexibilities for Duration of the COVID-19 Public Health
Emergency,” news release, September 21, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-item/usda-038020.
67 P.L. 116-159, Division D, T itle VI, §4602.
68 Further detail on T EFAP can be found in CRS Report R45408, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP):
Background and Funding
.
69 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I.
70 P.L. 116-136, Division B, T itle I.
71 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §711.
72 FY2020 appropriations are from the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY2020 (P.L. 116-94), and Division
A of FFCRA (P.L. 116-127), and Division B of the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136); FY2019 appropriations are from t he
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 (P.L. 116-6).
Congressional Research Service

16

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

FNS subsequently al ocated FFCRA and CARES Act funds to states using the state al ocation
formula specified in TEFAP regulations and provided guidance on the use of funds for food
distribution costs.73 At the end of FY2020, USDA had obligated $391 mil ion in CARES Act
funding (of which states opted to receive $132 mil ion in food distribution funds) and $214
mil ion in FFCRA funding (of which states opted for $88 mil ion in food distribution funds).74
Remaining FFCRA and CARES Act funds were carried over into FY2021. As of the date of this
report, USDA had not announced the obligation of TEFAP funds under the FY2021 Consolidated
Appropriations Act.
USDA has also used its authority under the Section 32 program to purchase additional foods for
distribution through TEFAP during the pandemic.75 Such bonus foods are purchased by USDA
based on agricultural market needs and funded by sources outside of TEFAP appropriations.76
During the pandemic, FNS has issued guidance explaining options that states have under current
law to adjust program rules, such as expanding eligibility rules for participants and waiving
signature requirements for the receipt of TEFAP foods.77
Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
The CARES Act provided $100 mil ion to the FDPIR, of which $50 mil ion was for facility
improvements and equipment upgrades and $50 mil ion was for the costs related to additional
food purchases.
In FY2020, FNS awarded over $40 mil ion in grants for facility improvements and equipment
upgrades to 97 Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) and state agencies (SAs) that administer
FDPIR.78 These grants were awarded for purposes such as changes to physical space to
accommodate social distancing and computer system upgrades to accommodate remote work.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
In addition to the annual funding provided, the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act
included $13 mil ion in supplemental funding for CSFP, available through FY2021.79 Up to 20%
of the funding is available for state administrative expenses.

73 For T EFAP’s state allocation formula, see 7 C.F.R. §251.3(h). For USDA’s guidance on the distribution of FFCRA
and CARES Act funds, see USDA, FNS, “ Additional Information on FY 2020 Funding Sources for T EFAP ,” June 12,
2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/tefap/additional-information-fy-2020-funding-sources; USDA, FNS, “ T he Emergency
Food Assistance Program (T EFAP): Allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Supplemental
Appropriations,” April 24, 2020; and USDA, FNS, “ 2020 T EFAP FFCRA Allocation Worksheet ,” April 17, 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19/tefap-ffcra-allocation-worksheet.
74 CRS correspondence with FNS in October 2020.
75 USDA, AMS, “ USDA Announces Additional Food Purchase Plans,” May 4, 2020, https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-
release/usda-announces-additional-food-purchase-plans.
76 For further discussion of T EFAP bonus foods in FY2020, see CRS Report R46432, Food Banks and Other
Em ergency Feeding Organizations: Federal Aid and the Response to COVID-19
.
77 USDA, FNS, “ Questions and Answers related to COVID-19 and the Emergency Food Assistance Program
(T EFAP),” May 22, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/tefap/covid-19-qas.
78 USDA, FNS, “USDA Foods from Farm to Plate: FDPIR Connection,” e-bulletin, October 2020.
79 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §712.
Congressional Research Service

17

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Other USDA Initiatives
In addition to using existing nutrition assistance programs, USDA launched two new programs to
feed people during the COVID-19 pandemic: the Farmers to Families Food Box program, which
has provided food boxes to individuals and households, and the Emergency Meals to You
program, which provided food boxes to households with school-aged children. Both programs
used funding provided in the COVID-19 pandemic response laws (discussed further below). FNS
also activated Disaster Household Distribution programs in certain states and tribal nations during
the early months of the pandemic.
Farmers to Families Food Box Program
On April 17, 2020, USDA announced a Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide
direct relief to farmers and ranchers for lost commodities markets.80 A smal er part of CFAP was a
new program, the Farmers to Families Food Box program, to facilitate the distribution of in-kind
foods to households during the pandemic. Specifical y, the program provides fresh fruits and
vegetables, dairy, and meat products from local and regional suppliers to public and nonprofit
organizations, including food banks, schools, tribal organizations, and faith-based organizations.81
The stated goals of the program are to expedite federal y sponsored food deliveries to food banks
and other feeding organizations and to “sel food previously destined for restaurants and bulk
purchasers to distributors, preventing waste.”82
Unlike other USDA nutrition assistance programs, state agencies do not play a direct role in the
administration of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.83 Instead, USDA’s Agricultural
Marketing Service (AMS) awards contracts directly to suppliers through a solicitation process.
According to the terms of the contracts, suppliers must package products into “family-sized
boxes” and distribute the boxes to food banks and other recipient organizations selected by the
supplier.84 Recipient organizations must be nonprofit with 501(c)(3) tax exemption status or local
government agencies that “can demonstrate that they have the operational and financial capability
to receive, store and distribute requested food items.”85 Nonprofit recipients must also agree to
serve only “needy people, or the food insecure population.”86 Contents of the boxes have differed
over time, but have included fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, fluid milk, precooked
meats (initial y pork and poultry, and later beef and seafood), or a combination of these items.87

80 For more information on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, see CRS Report R46347, COVID-19, U.S.
Agriculture, and USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
; and CRS Report R46348, COVID-19:
Supply Chain Disruptions in the U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Industry: In Brief
.
81 USDA, “ USDA Announces Coronavirus Food Assistance Program,” April 17, 2020, https://www.usda.gov/media/
press-releases/2020/04/17/usda-announces-coronavirus-food-assistance-program.
82 USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), “ Farmers to Families Food Box Infographic,”
https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/FarmerstoFamiliesFoodBox.pdf; USDA, AMS webinar on April
21, 2020, recording available at https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box.
83 See CRS Report R42353, Domestic Food Assistance: Summary of Programs.
84 USDA, AMS, “ Farmers to Families Food Box,” https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-
food-box, accessed on January 27, 2021.
85 USDA, AMS, “ Farmers to Families Food Box Program FAQs,” April 27, 2020, https://www.ams.usda.gov/
publications/content/farmers-families-food-box-program-faqs.
86 USDA, AMS, Solicitation 12-3J14-20-B-0588, p. 30, https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/
FFFB_solicitationRound3.pdf.
87 USDA, AMS, Solicitation AG-12-3J14-20-R-0377, April 24, 2020, p. 5, https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/
Congressional Research Service

18

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

To date, USDA has al ocated approximately $6 bil ion for the Farmers to Families Food Box
program, which has funded five separate rounds of contracts and deliveries. That includes $4
bil ion in funding for the first three rounds of the program funded under FFCRA, which gave the
Secretary of Agriculture “such amounts as are necessary” to “purchase commodities for
emergency distribution in any area of the United States during a public health emergency
designation” in FY2020.88 Actual expenditures were closer to $3.57 bil ion, which funded 120.5
mil ion food boxes distributed between May 2020 and October 31, 2020.89 On October 23, 2020,
USDA announced $500 mil ion for a fourth round of awards under the program for deliveries
through December 31, 2020, funded with unobligated funds from the CARES Act.90 Preliminary
data show that actual expenditures for the fourth round were approximately $463 mil ion, which
funded 12.3 mil ion food boxes.91 The fifth round of the program, announced on January 4, 2021,
is using $1.5 bil ion in funding from the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act and wil fund
deliveries through the end of April 2021.92
Emergency Meals to You
FNS created and operated the Emergency Meals to You program from March 2020 to August
2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.93 Modeled off the Summer Meals-to-You
demonstration, the Emergency Meals to You program worked with private partners (Baylor
University’s Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo) to mail food
boxes to children in participating school districts in rural areas nationwide who would normal y
receive free or reduced-price school meals but were not receiving them due to an emergency
school closure.94 School districts were eligible to participate in Emergency Meals to You if they

files/media/RFP_ERAcquisition.pdf; USDA, “ USDA Announces Continuation of the Farmers to Families Food Box
Program, Fifth Round of Food Purchases,” January 4, 2021, https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/01/04/
usda-announces-continuation-farmers-families-food-box-program-fifth.
88 P.L. 116-127, Division A, T itle I, §1101(g); USDA, AMS, “Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA); Purchase of Fruit,
Vegetable, Dairy, and Meat Products Due to COVID-19 National Emergency-USDA Food Box Distribution Program,”
85 Federal Register 23325, April 27, 2020, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/27/2020-08979/notice-
of-funds-availability-nofa-purchase-of-fruit-vegetable-dairy-and-meat-products-due-to.
89 Data as of January 11, 2021. USDA, AMS, “ Farmers to Families Food Box,” https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-
food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box, accessed on January 27, 2021.
90 USDA, “USDA Announces Fourth Round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” Release No. 0429.20,
October 23, 2020, https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/10/23/usda-announces-fourth-round-farmers-
families-food-box-program. According to CRS correspondence with AMS on November 19, 2020, the fourth round of
purchases is funded from unobligated funds under the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136), Division B, Agricultural Programs,
Office of the Secretary that were previously available for payments to farmers in another part of the CFAP .
91 Data as of January 11, 2021. USDA AMS, “ Farmers to Families Food Box,” https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-
to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box, accessed on January 27, 2021.
92 P.L. 116-260, Division N, T itle VII, §751; USDA, “ USDA Announces Continuation of the Farmers to Families Food
Box Program, Fifth Round of Food Purchases,” January 4, 2021, https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/01/
04/usda-announces-continuation-farmers-families-food-box-program-fifth; USDA, AMS, “ Round 5 Approved
Contractors for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program ,” https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-
to-families-food-box/approved-contractors-round-five.
93 According to FNS, the Emergency Meals to You demonstration was established using authority from Section 749(g)
of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Age ncies Appropriations Act,
2010 (P.L. 111-80) and Section 2202(a) of FFCRA (P.L. 116-127). CRS correspondence with USDA, FNS, on July 24,
2020. For a list of school dist ricts that participated in Emergency Meals to You by state, see Mealstoyou.org,
“Emergency Meals-to-You School Districts,” https://mealstoyou.org/emergency-meals-to-you-school-districts-2.
94 USDA, “ USDA Meals to You Partnership Delivers Nearly 30 Million Meals,” July 16, 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-item/usda-032420; USDA, FNS, “ Meals to You Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),”
https://mealstoyou.org/emtyfaqs/. For more information on the Summer Meals-to-You program, see CRS In Focus
Congressional Research Service

19

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

(1) participated in the NSLP, (2) had at least 50% of students qualified for free or reduced-priced
meals (or participated in the Community Eligibility Provision [CEP]), (3) were closed for at least
four weeks, and (4) were located in a rural area.95 Households with eligible children that signed
up for the program were to receive a box containing 10 breakfasts and 10 lunches, including a
combination of shelf-stable items, every two weeks by mail.96 Total expenditures were
approximately $123 mil ion, which FNS said funded more than 40 mil ion meals delivered to
approximately 400,000 children across the United States.97
Disaster Household Distribution
During a presidential y declared disaster or emergency, states may be able to repurpose existing
local inventories of USDA Foods intended for other nutrition assistance programs (e.g., TEFAP
and NSLP) for disaster/emergency feeding efforts.98 Under one program option, Disaster
Household Distribution, USDA may approve requests from states and tribes to repurpose USDA
Foods for direct distribution to households in areas affected by an emergency or disaster.99 USDA
later replenishes or reimburses federal nutrition assistance programs for USDA Foods
reprogrammed for disaster/emergency feeding during a presidentially declared disaster or
emergency.100 Disaster Household Distribution facilitates faster distribution to households by
reducing administrative requirements (e.g., removing eligibility determinations); however, it
temporarily results in lower USDA Foods inventory for other federal nutrition assistance
programs.
Following the presidential emergency declaration for COVID-19, USDA approved requests from
21 states, Guam, and 33 tribal nations to operate Disaster Household Distribution programs
during the early months of the pandemic.101 These approvals had different timeframes but
typical y ended by July 2020.




IF11633, Sum mer Meals for Children: An Overview of Federal Aid .
95 Ibid.
96 Sample items include “Protein: Milk, Chicken Salad, Hummus, Beef Stick, Bean Dip, Cheese, Sunflower Kernels;
Whole Grains: T ortilla Chips, Corn Chips, Crackers, Oatmeal Bars, Cereal; Vegetables: Salsa Cup, Marinara Cup,
100% Veg/Fruit Juice; Fruit: Applesauce, Raisins, Craisins, Fruit Cup, 100% Fruit Juice.”
97 CRS correspondence with FNS in February 2021; USDA, “ Secretary Perdue Applauds USDA’s 2020
Accomplishments,” December 16, 2020, https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/12/16/secretary-perdue-
applauds-usdas-2020-accomplishments.
98 For more information on Disast er Household Distribution and related USDA emergency food distribution options,
see CRS Report R46432, Food Banks and Other Em ergency Feeding Organizations: Federal Aid and the Response to
COVID-19
.
99 7 C.F.R. §250.69; USDA, FNS, Food Distribution Division, “USDA Foods Program Disaster Manual,” revised
September 2017, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/fdd/disaster-manual.pdf.
100 7 C.F.R. §250.69(g).
101 USDA, FNS, “ Disaster Household Distribution,” June 11, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/usda-foods/covid-19-
disaster-household-distribution.
Congressional Research Service

20

USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic


Author Information

Randy Alison Aussenberg
Kara Clifford Billings
Specialist in Nutrition Assistance Policy
Analyst in Social Policy




Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Congressional Research Service
R46681 · VERSION 1 · NEW
21