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Tax breaks are biggest difference between state budget negotiators, but there's a gap in SNAP funding too

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State lawmakers will return to Richmond on Monday to start a special session focusing on the state budget, but they will also have to address a difference between competing budgets on funding for administrative costs for a recently expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides monthly benefits to purchase food.

Last year lawmakers expanded eligibility for SNAP, which gives people money to purchase food. That required more funds, since there were about 25,000 families that were newly eligible. But it also requires administrative funding.

“We have caseworkers out there at the local level reviewing all of these applications and with an increase in eligibility there's also more caseworkers that possibly would need to be hired,” said Cassie Edner, a public benefits attorney at Virginia Poverty Law Center and the director of Virginia Hunger Solutions.

The new eligibility rules, known as a broad-based categorical eligibility, allowed families with a gross income of 200% of the federal poverty level to qualify for assistance and savings no longer disqualified people from eligibility.

Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, fewer than 700,000 Virginians participated in SNAP. In February 2022, that number was 838,704.

The Senate’s version of the state budget currently doesn’t have the money for administering the expanded SNAP benefits, after a budget amendment stripped about $3 million in funding from the Department of Social Services’ budget.

“With SNAP benefits you're not only looking at the benefits to, individual households, but that's money that's going back into the community and helping the community,” said Edner.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service said in a July 2019 study that money spent on SNAP had a higher economic benefit to economies than other government spending.

Lawmakers will also debate how much of Virginia’s grocery tax should be eliminated. The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, wants to end only a portion that goes to the state. The House which Republicans control, wants to remove the local grocery tax too. Disagreements over the grocery tax contributed to the budget impasse between houses of the General Assembly.

SNAP recipients do not pay taxes on eligible food purchased through the program, according to the Department of Social Services.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center also has a SNAP calculator that can calculate whether a person qualifies for SNAP.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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