Press Release

Welch Introduces New Bills to Bolster SNAP Benefits for Social Security Recipients and Student Loan Borrowers  

Feb 27, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) today introduced the COLAs Don’t Count Act, and the Student Loan Deduction Act of 2024, bills that would exempt annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and student loan payments from impacting the benefits of the families and individuals who utilize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for food assistance. This would help ensure participants of SNAP are not losing benefits to the added costs of inflation and can more accurately report their available income after the expense of student loans is paid. 

The COLAs Don’t Count Act of 2024 is cosponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and exempts Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) from SNAP eligibility and benefit determinations. Railroad retirement and veterans’ benefits COLAs and state supplementation program payments would similarly be exempt. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI-4) has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The Student Loan Deduction Act of 2024 is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and would allow SNAP households to deduct monthly payments made on federal and private student loans from their income when calculating eligibility for SNAP benefits.  

“Nearly 70,000 Vermonters rely on SNAP—it’s essential that the program accurately captures the financial reality of those who utilize it to put food on the table. Yet increasingly we’re seeing SNAP recipients lose out because of outdated income requirements that don’t reflect stresses like high student loan payments and increased cost of living expenses and inflation,” said Senator Welch. “These bills account for hardships people experience every day and aim to ensure these costs don’t impact any Vermonters’ ability to receive SNAP benefits.” 

“Social Security’s COLA is a vital enhancement to account for inflation because it helps support sustained and sufficient retirement and disability benefits. But COLA increases should not cost one’s food assistance, especially since these same individuals are more likely to be feeling the pain of higher food prices. By better aligning these programs with the needs of the Americans they serve, we better ensure that both programs can keep fulfilling their missions. Without congressional action, many vulnerable Americans including seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities could see their SNAP benefits decrease annually. Our COLAs Don’t Count Act is a needed solution that will protect access to SNAP benefits for millions of Americans and help prevent food insecurity. Food isn’t an optional expense, it’s essential, which is why we must act now,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore

“SNAP is by far the most effective and responsive food security program we have here in Vermont and nationally,” said Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont.  “These proposed common-sense updates to SNAP will help people living on low fixed incomes, and people working to put new college degrees to good use, stretch their food budgets farther, and show us that Congress can make policy choices that will ensure greater food security for those of us who need it most.” 

For 2023, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits increased by 8.7%, the largest increase in the past 40 years. The average Social Security check rose by more than $140 a month. While cost-of-living adjustments to SSI ensure that benefits are keeping with rising costs caused by inflation, the inability of beneficiaries to deduct those adjustments leads to an erosion of SNAP benefits. In 2023, an estimated 28,000 SNAP households completely lost their eligibility, and approximately 36% of SNAP beneficiaries average a decrease of $32 a month from their SNAP benefits. 

43.6 million U.S. borrowers have federal student loan debt, averaging $37,718 per borrower, while the average monthly student loan payment is an estimated $503. By permitting a deduction for these payments, the proposed change seeks to provide a more accurate representation of a household’s available income. Furthermore, this approach aligns with existing practices within SNAP, where various deductions, such as housing and childcare expenses, are already considered in the determination process. 

The COLAs Don’t Count Act is endorsed by Hunger Free Vermont, Century Foundation and its Disability Economic Justice Collaborative, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, Food Research and Action Center, National Council on Aging, Social Security Works, and Strengthen Social Security Coalition. 

The Student Loan Deduction Act of 2024 is endorsed by Hunger Free Vermont, Food Research and Action Center, and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. 

Learn more about the COLAs Don’t Count Act here and read the full text of the bill here

Learn more about the Student Loan Deduction Act of 2024 here and read the full text of the bill here