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Revised Thrifty Food Plan Helps Millions of SNAP Participants Afford a Healthy, Nutritious Diet

By August 19, 2021No Comments

Background

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it has updated the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is used to set SNAP benefit levels. This science-driven and long-overdue reevaluation is welcome news for families across the state and nation, many of whom will be better able to afford a healthy diet with these updated SNAP benefits.

The Thrifty Food Plan is a set of foods that represent a nutritionally adequate diet that low-income households can purchase and prepare, assuming they take significant steps to stretch their food budget. The cost of the Thrifty Food Plan is the basis for SNAP benefit levels.

The Thrifty Food Plan had been badly out of date and grown increasingly unrealistic over the course of nearly 50 years. It had been held to a very low-cost constraint since the 1970s, with adjustments only for inflation. It also failed to reflect the range of healthy foods recommended in science-based dietary guidelines, and the barriers faced by time-strapped working families.

As a result, SNAP benefits fell short of what many people and families need to buy and prepare healthy food. This left far too many families—and disproportionately, families of color—food insecure. Research found that it also harmed children’s health and educational achievement.

In recognition of the TFP’s shortcomings, the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill—passed under Republican leadership of the House Agriculture Committee—directed USDA to re-assess the TFP by 2022 and every five years thereafter. President Biden, in one of his first executive actions, asked USDA to move quickly to complete the TFP re-evaluation process.

The revised TFP provides improvements to more accurately measure the cost of a healthy diet, including a broad and more varied range of foods that meet current nutritional standards and are more in line with what households actually eat. The updated plan also includes healthy foods that take less time to prepare, for example, assuming that nearly all beans are purchased in canned form, unlike the previous version, which relied heavily on dried beans.

Revised TFP Provides A Meaningful, but Modest Increase to SNAP Benefits

The revised TFP results in a meaningful, but modest increase in SNAP benefit levels. The maximum SNAP benefits will increase by 21 percent—raising the average benefit from about $4.25 per person per day to about $5.45 per person per day starting October 1, 2021. This modest increase will make a difference for families who often run out of benefits before month’s end.

While this revision to the TFP makes a much-needed, long-term change, SNAP households will see benefits rise by only 7 percent in October when the revised TFP takes effect, because at the same time, a temporary pandemic-related 15% SNAP boost will end.

For more information see USDA’s SNAP Fiscal Year 2022 Cost-of-Living Adjustments memo.

Conclusion

SNAP benefits that include more realistic nutritional and dietary assumptions will better reflect the cost of a healthy diet—allowing households to buy healthier foods—and will make a difference for families who often run out of benefits before the month ends. The increase will be particularly important for families who live in high-cost areas—like many parts of NYS—where housing takes up a larger share of their income, leaving less to spend for food.

Increased SNAP benefits will help address the disproportionate impacts of benefit inadequacy on people of color. Poverty and food insecurity rates are higher among Black and Latino households due to racism and other structural factors, including unequal education, job, and housing opportunities, that contribute to income disparities. Because of SNAP’s role in addressing higher food insecurity among people of color, ensuring benefits are adequate is especially important in these communities.

Research shows more adequate SNAP benefits can help reduce food insecurity and child poverty, which can have long-term impacts, such as supporting economic mobility and reducing health care costs. Children receiving SNAP face lower risks of nutritional deficiencies and poor health, which can lead to improved health over their lifetimes. SNAP also can affect children’s ability to succeed in school. One study, for example, found that test scores among students in SNAP households are highest for those receiving benefits two to three weeks before the test, suggesting that SNAP can help students learn and prepare for tests.

TFP Modernization Resources and Tools

CBPP Thrifty Food Plan Resources

FRAC Benefit Adequacy Resources

USDA TFP Resources and Landing Page