Americans who struggle to afford healthy food for their families will soon receive a much-needed boost. In a historic move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recalculated how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are determined. As a result, the average SNAP recipient will see an increase of $36.24 per person per month, beginning on October 1, 2021.
This action represents the most significant single increase in SNAP benefits in history. And it comes just in time to prevent a potential catastrophe for some families, as the temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits contained in the American Rescue Plan runs out at the end of September.
One in eight Americans relies on SNAP benefits to bolster food security. However, according to a USDA study released earlier this year, nearly 90% of SNAP recipients report facing barriers to accessing a healthy diet. The most common obstacle reported is the high cost of food.
SNAP benefits are based on the Thrifty Food Plan, a model in use since 1975 that gauges the cost of a healthy yet economical food plan for a family of four. The USDA has reevaluated and updated the Plan to consider current conditions such as changes in food prices, eating patterns, and nutritional guidelines. This year marks the first time the purchasing power of the Plan has changed since its inception.
To ensure that SNAP benefits keep up with real-world circumstances, the USDA will reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan every five years, as mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill. In addition, the cost of the Plan will be adjusted to reflect inflation according to the Consumer Price Index.
The Urban Institute (UI)’s analysis of the overhaul concluded that the new policy will make a considerable difference in anti-hunger efforts. In 2020, UI found that the maximum SNAP benefit was inadequate to pay for a basic meal in 96% of the nation’s counties. The temporary hike provided by the American Rescue Plan reduced the gap to 41%. With the USDA’s new method of calculating benefits, UI projects that recipients in only 21% of counties will face a disparity between SNAP benefits and budget-conscious meal costs.
Along with oxygen and water, food is the basis of life. A healthy diet is key to good health, from brain development in young children to disease prevention in adults. Too many families struggling with limited financial resources have to choose between good nutrition and paying rent or utilities, so this extra support is potentially a lifesaver.
A healthy, financially-stable, and thriving community is in everyone’s best interest. Studies have consistently shown that SNAP not only improves food security but also reduces poverty and lowers health care costs. The USDA’s landmark change in how benefits are calculated is good news for all Americans.
To find out more about SNAP eligibility, consult the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website.