The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a 25 percent increase in food aid provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This aid boost represents the largest single increase since the program was introduced in 1975, and will benefit 42 million Americans.
The increased SNAP benefits are based on major revisions to the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is one of four food plans developed by the USDA. Food plans are used to estimate the cost of a healthy diet at various price levels. The TFP is the lowest cost food plan, and provides a basis for the government to calculate SNAP allocations.
A recent study conducted by the USDA finds that 88 percent of SNAP participants face barriers to a healthy diet, with the most common barrier being the affordability of healthy foods.
As a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Build Back Better initiative, the USDA was directed to reevaluate the TFP to account for four main factors: food prices, nutrients in food, nutrition guidance, and consumption patterns. The analysis shows that the price of a nutritious, budget-conscious diet costs 21 percent more than the TFP.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, “A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition – it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security.”
A team of economists, nutrition scientists, and analysts from the Food and Nutrition Service’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion helped to evaluate the TFP. One major change made through the reevaluation process is to base food costs on data collected from stores, versus costs self-reported by households. The new TFP also accounts for more fish and red and orange vegetables, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
Increased SNAP benefits will take effect starting October 1, 2021. The average monthly per-person coverage will increase from US$121 to US$157, totaling an additional US$20 billion per year.
This increase in SNAP benefits will have major implications for U.S. nutrition security. The 2021 Thrifty Food Plan features Market Baskets, which illustrate how families can spend weekly allotments in alignment with nutrition guidance. Families are free to select foods based on their preferences and culture while still achieving a healthy diet.
Stacy Dean, Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at the USDA, says, “To set SNAP families up for success, we need a Thrifty Food Plan that supports current dietary guidance on a budget. Too many of our fellow Americans struggle to afford healthy meals. The revised plan is one step toward getting them the support they need to feed their families.”