Brief How Far Did SNAP Benefits Fall Short of Covering the Cost of a Meal in 2020?
Elaine Waxman, Craig Gundersen, Olivia Fiol
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the primary federal food assistance program, aims to reduce hunger and food insecurity by augmenting low-income families’ purchasing power. However, the effectiveness of SNAP can be limited in a variety of ways, including by maximum benefit level, challenges with the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), and geographic variation in food prices. In an earlier version of this brief, we documented one of these limitations: the failure of the SNAP benefit to account for the wide geographic variation in food prices across the US. In this brief, we update our assessment of the adequacy of SNAP benefits by examining their efficacy in the context of food prices across the US in 2020. We compare the maximum SNAP benefit per meal with the average cost of a meal purchased by food-secure households with incomes below the federal gross income limit for SNAP. We also adjust our assessment with an increase of 15 percent in maximum benefits, the size of the temporary increase in the maximum SNAP benefit implemented from January 2021 through September 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Areas Social safety net
Tags Families with low incomes Poverty Welfare and safety net programs Hunger and food assistance Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) From Safety Net to Solid Ground
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center