Senior Policy Analyst
SNAP (food stamp) benefits fall short of what many participants need to buy food and prepare a healthy diet, our new paper and policy brief explain. Additional benefits would increase families’ food spending and improve food security.
As we’ve written, SNAP helps millions of low-income families and individuals put food on the table and it lays a critical foundation for their health and well-being, lifting millions out of poverty and improving food security. But its benefits are modest — less than $1.40 per person per meal, on average — and roughly half of participating households are still food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to enough food to support an active, healthy life.
SNAP’s benefit inadequacy partly reflects the underlying assumptions in the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) — the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) estimate of a minimal-cost, nutritionally adequate diet — which is the basis for SNAP benefit levels.
Also, while the TFP meets many science-based nutritional recommendations, it falls short of nutritional guidelines for vitamin E, potassium, and sodium. Moreover, it doesn’t account for a range of dietary restrictions, and it doesn’t cover medically necessary dietary needs for relatively common conditions like lactose intolerance or diabetes.
For many participants, raising SNAP benefits would increase food spending, improve food security, and help families afford nutritious food for more days of the month, this evidence shows, and it could contribute to other positive outcomes, such as improved health.