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Social Security: Could the COLA Increase Reduce Your SNAP Benefits?

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The rate of inflation skyrocketed to 6.8% in 2021, its highest 12-month (ending November) increase since 1982, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Social Security Administration has also confirmed that Social Security benefits will increase by 5.9% for approximately 70 million Americans in 2022. What does extra Social Security income mean for SNAP recipients?

See: Social Security: Could the COLA Increase Cost You Money?
Learn: Social Security 2022: How the COLA Will Increase Benefits for the Average Senior Couple

Beneficiaries won’t see the full financial impact of high inflation on Social Security income until well into 2023 and beyond, said Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at the Senior Citizens League. However, low-income programs could potentially see lower benefit amounts. 

Low-income programs, such as SNAP, rental assistance and Medicare Extra Help, have complex eligibility requirements and income restrictions that are determined in relationship to a percentage of the federal poverty level. SNAP maximum allotments, deductions and income eligibility standards are adjusted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the beginning of each federal fiscal year. The fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

“If income is right on the borderline, and a high COLA is received, that potentially could cause trims to benefits from programs,” Johnson wrote. “Some individuals might lose access to certain low-income benefits altogether because the COLA boosts their income over the limit.”

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The federal poverty level is adjusted for inflation each year using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U). Typically, the CPI-U increases slightly faster than the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which is the index used to adjust Social Security benefits, Johnson added.

While the federal poverty line tends to keep pace with COLA, 2021 is a different story. According to Johnson, the CPI-U has grown more slowly than COLA, which could result in benefit trims for SNAP. 

If you have questions about your 2022 SNAP benefits, contact your state or local agency.

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