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The Illinois Senate voted recently by a vote of 34-17 to increase access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Illinoisans earning 165 percent of the Federal Poverty Level will now be eligible for these benefits, up from 130 percent, the lowest permitted by federal law.

“Expanding access to SNAP benefits is a no-brainer,” said state Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston). “We have the opportunity to give this lifeline to more hard-working families in Illinois, and because it’s completely federally funded, it is fiscally responsible even in our current difficult budgetary situation.” 

The legislation, Senate Bill 1847, also classifies a household that includes an elderly, blind, or disabled person as eligible to be considered for these benefits if the household’s gross income is at or below 200% of the nonfarm income poverty guidelines. 

This is all part of a larger effort led by the Shriver Center to help the working poor feed their families and respond to the Rauner Administration’s stated desire to maximize Illinois’ access to federal funding. About 2 million Illinois residents received SNAP assistance in November of last year, and according to the Shriver Center, the prospective new law would have a fiscal impact of $1 million to the state.  

Federal regulations state that SNAP recipients can use their assistance to buy most food items and plants and seeds to grow food, but cannot use the SNAP benefits to purchase hot prepared foods or non-food items, such as diapers. 

The measure now goes to the House for discussion and may still be subject to federal approval.