BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A record number of people got help from the Louisiana Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unemployment claims jumped more than 2,000%, according to a state auditor’s report. In February 2020, they were at about 16,798 and by April 2020, claims jumped to 366,798.

SNAP also increased to meet growing needs. According to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, there were 769,768 SNAP recipients in February 2020 and 981,751 in January 2021.

“The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services responded to record food needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to the flexibilities and benefit increases provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service,” wrote DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks in a response letter.

She said they handled five times the normal number of applicants early in the pandemic. The federal expansion, she said, let more Louisiana families get the help they needed. She said removing those barriers to access also got money to businesses.

FNS let states keep people in the program for longer than usual as part of the pandemic changes. That recently changed.

In February, DCFS started requiring proof of certain eligibility requirements. They expect to see an enrollment decrease in March 2023.

SNAP benefit amounts also increased as more people applied. In February 2020, average household benefits were $272 per month. They jumped to $563 by December 2022.

Congress approved part of that increase with temporary funds because of the pandemic. One emergency allotment ended in February 2023, and a separate $30 per person also ended in fall 2021.

DCFS waived interviews starting in March 2020 and started having them again in May 2022.

The state agency also suspended required quality control from March 2020 to June 2021. Hurricane Ida required another waiver. Regular quality control monitoring started again in September 2021.

Click here to read the full audit.