WASHINGTON (WTRF) — A significant and permanent increase in the levels of food stamp assistance is now available to needy families – the largest single increase in the program’s history.

The increase to what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was announced in August and took effect this month, The New York Times reports. The additional assistance is available to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries.

Benefits are awarded on a sliding scale and the new maximum will rise to $835 a month for a family of four, an increase of 21 percent, according to the Times. The average benefit will rise 27 percent from pre-pandemic levels, adjusted for inflation.

The aid boost is being packaged as a major revision of the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which was first issued in 1975. The old model, according to the Times, ignored geographic differences in prices and based costs on a hypothetical family with children under the age of 12, not hungrier teenagers.

The new guidelines allow SNAP users 7 percent more calories, based on weight gains and new exercise recommendations. They also incorporate new dietary standards, adding more seafood, and more red and orange vegetables, according to the Times.

The increase is part of a multi-pronged Biden administration effort to strengthen the country’s social safety net. Poverty and food security activists maintain that longstanding inadequacies in that safety net were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting an opportunity to make generational improvements that reach beyond the current public health crisis.

Activists say the previous levels of pre-pandemic SNAP assistance simply weren’t enough, forcing many households to choose cheaper, less nutritious options or simply go hungry as the funds ran low toward the end of the month.