Utah, Georgia, and Louisiana have all also confirmed large increases in the number of applications. In recognition of this surging demand for SNAP, the federal government’s coronavirus relief bill, signed into law on March 27, includes an additional $16 billion for SNAP in 2020, to make sure the program has enough funding. The federal government has also made it easier for residents to receive SNAP by waiving the requirement that states interview all recipients before they are approved (the program is run by states though the money comes from the federal government).

Like unemployment insurance, SNAP is what economists call an automatic stabilizer. Many economists believe these are the best types of welfare programs. Rather than requiring the government to enact new bills for every crisis, automatic stabilizers quickly respond to the needs of those who have lost jobs and pump money into the economy. When the economy is doing well, the number of people on these programs naturally falls.

Automatics stabilizers are not as large in the US as they are in Europe. One study found that, when people become unemployed in Europe, about 47% of an individual’s lost income is made up for by automatic stabilizers, compared to just 34% in the US. After this crisis is over, US lawmakers may want to consider boosting the benefits for programs like SNAP, unemployment insurance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which get money quickly to the neediest when times are bad. It might make it easier for the government to handle the next crisis.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.