Record-breaking rising food costs in 2022 made it hard for many people to adequately feed themselves and their families. Though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps families purchase the food they need, the maximum benefit rarely covers the cost of a modestly priced meal. Using county-level food price data from NielsenIQ, we compare the cost of a modestly priced meal with the maximum SNAP benefit before and after the USDA’s fiscal year 2023 cost-of-living adjustment took effect in October 2022. Overall, we find that the adjustment was helpful but not sufficient, and SNAP continues to fall short in helping families afford rising food prices in a majority of US counties. Overall, we find the following small positive effects of the most recent inflation adjustment to SNAP benefits:
- The share of counties with a gap between SNAP benefits and meal costs decreased from 99 to 78 percent.
- Nationally, the gap between SNAP benefits and meal costs dropped from $0.71 per meal (29 percent) to $0.40 per meal (15 percent).
- The gap between SNAP benefits and meal costs in the five counties with the largest gaps declined from 75 to 50 percent. The five counties with the biggest gaps were the same before and after the 2023 COLA; four of them were rural (Leelanau County, Michigan; Teton County, Idaho; and Lincoln County and Teton County, Wyoming).
- The gap between the cost of a meal and the maximum benefit was larger in urban areas than in rural areas.