Project Bread applauds the USDA’s announcement of a permanent 21% increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the largest increase in the program’s history. Starting this October, the over 950,000 SNAP recipients in Massachusetts will receive an average monthly increase of $36 to buy the groceries they need. Project Bread celebrates the work of the USDA in its reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to calculate SNAP benefits.
The Thrifty Food Plan was established in 1975 and has not been fundamentally adjusted since, despite significant changes in how Americans live, purchase food, prepare meals, and eat. As an example of the outdated nature of the Thrifty Food Plan was the assumption that households with low-incomes would spend 138 minutes per day preparing meals at home using scratch ingredients such as dried beans versus convenience products such as canned beans. The USDA’s research found actual SNAP households spend an average 50 minutes per days and non-SNAP households only 36 minutes per day.
Despite the important role SNAP has played in reducing food insecurity and poverty, it has historically been insufficient to meet the needs of households. The USDA estimates that over half of households exhaust their monthly benefits in just two weeks, and the Urban Institute has found that the maximum SNAP benefit (set at the Thrifty Food Plan) did not cover the cost of a meal in 96% of US counties, including all the counties in Massachusetts. While more must be done to increase household purchasing power for basic needs, the USDA’s decision is a huge step forward in addressing food insecurity that will help put healthy food within reach of low-income households.
The USDA projects that under the new benefit levels, Massachusetts will receive $2 billion in federal SNAP dollars in fiscal year 2022, representing an increase of $428 million more dollars coming into the Commonwealth. We know $1 in SNAP benefits generates an estimated $1.70 in economic activity, thus, in addition to reducing food insecurity, this new Thrifty Food Plan may also help boost the Massachusetts economy.
Project Bread is grateful to Congress, and for the leadership of our delegation, for initiating this re-evaluation in the 2018 Farm Bill. Congress had set 2022 as the deadline for this re-evaluation, but in recognizing the reality of food insecurity before and especially during the pandemic, President Biden expedited this process with an executive order on his third day in office. We thank the Administration and the USDA for making this happen a full year earlier than expected. Project Bread looks forward to working with our state and federal partners in further dismantling the barriers to greater SNAP participation and eligibility, as described in our July 2021 report, so that more food insecure families can benefit from the revised Thrifty Food Plan.