Receiving a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on your Social Security benefit each year can be advantageous, as it boosts your monthly payment and acts as a defense against inflation. One disadvantage of receiving more money is that you may become ineligible for certain benefits, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Because of the giant COLA for 2023, two U.S. congresswomen, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), are proposing a solution to this issue by ensuring that annual COLAs do not affect SNAP eligibility. A new law called the “COLAs Don’t Count Act” has been proposed. Its purpose is to exclude yearly Social Security COLAs from being considered when determining eligibility and benefits for SNAP. This exemption would also apply to veterans’ benefits and state supplementation program payments.
The timing of this proposed legislation is significant because the 2023 Social Security COLA was the largest in over 40 years, at 8.7%. While this increase raised the average Social Security check by more than $140 per month, it also pushed many recipients above the income eligibility thresholds for SNAP.
The SNAP program provides food purchasing assistance to low-income households. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and coordinated at the state level. Nearly 9 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries receive SNAP benefits. However, when their income surpasses certain limits, their SNAP benefits are reduced or eliminated.
The 2023 COLA increase resulted in reduced food-stamp benefits for around 36% of SNAP participants, with an average monthly reduction of $32, and approximately 28,000 SNAP households lost their eligibility, according to USDA data cited in Rep. Moore’s press release.
Rep. Moore emphasized the importance of the COLA for supporting retirement and disability benefits against inflation but expressed concern that it should not come at the cost of food assistance, especially for those reliant solely on Social Security income.
The proposed bill aims to align SNAP with the genuine needs of its recipients. Without congressional action, vulnerable Americans, including seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities, could face annual reductions in their SNAP benefits due to COLAs.
The 2023 Social Security COLA immediately impacted SNAP and other benefits in certain regions. For instance, in Louisiana, over 145,300 SNAP households (about 34% of the total) experienced monthly benefit reductions, averaging a little more than $47 per month.
The COLAs Don’t Count Act seeks to address these problems by safeguarding SNAP benefits from COLA adjustments. However, for the bill to become law, it must first pass the Republican-led U.S. House, which could pose challenges due to some GOP lawmakers’ efforts to cut SNAP instead of bolstering it.
Rep. Schakowsky highlighted the original intent of COLAs to protect Social Security and SSI benefits from inflation but expressed concern that they are currently being misused to undermine these vital programs.