(The Center Square) – More Minnesotans than ever visited food shelves in 2023.

According to the nonprofit Hunger Solutions, Minnesotans made 7.5 million visits to food shelves in 2023 – 1.8 million more than the year before.

“No Minnesotan should go hungry,” Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee, said in a statement. “Democrats are working to help Minnesotans afford their lives so everyone can thrive.”

The Minnesota House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee heard three bills aiming to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income households buy food.

Under federal regulations, an otherwise eligible able-bodied adult between the ages of 18 and 52 and without dependents is only eligible to receive food support for three months in 36 months, unless the person is exempt from the time limit or is meeting the monthly work requirements.

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After using up these “three free months” of eligibility, to “earn” additional months of eligibility for food support, the ABAWD must work at least 80 hours per month, or must participate in employment and training activities. A person is excused from these work requirements and time limits if the person:

is unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation ▪ is pregnant ▪ has someone under age 18 in the person’s SNAP householdis excused from the general work requirementsis a veteranis experiencing homelessnessis age 24 or younger and in foster care on their 18th birthday

This bill, as amended, establishes SNAP as a medicine program to provide a monthly benefit of $175 and assistance with obtaining medical or behavioral health assessments for eligible program participants at risk of losing SNAP benefits due to federal time limits.

The bill also requires a two-year moratorium on terminating food assistance for eligible individuals, requires a report to the legislature, and appropriates money for the program.

This is more than triple the number of visits made during the recession in the late 2000s and more than double the number of visits made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A map provided by Hunger Solutions shows most counties, spread across the state, saw an increase in visits, with 14 counties seeing increased visits of 50% to more than 100%.

Hunger Solutions Minnesota
Hunger Solutions Minnesota

The committee heard three bills aimed to expand eligibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Minnesotans.

The first bill, House File 3426 authored by Rep. Kim Hicks, DFL-Rochester, would expand SNAP benefits to many Minnesotans with disabilities.

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The second bill, HF 3469, authored by vice chair Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead) would direct the Minnesota Department of Health to establish a “SNAP as medicine program” to help people retain federal food benefits to which they are entitled.

The last bill, HF 3855, authored by Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow SNAP recipients who aren’t able to prepare meals for themselves, or who do not have access to permanent housing for storing and preparing food, to buy prepared meals.

All of these bills await budget targets for possible action.

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