More relief is on the way for low-income individuals and families. President Joe Biden just approved a massive expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. An estimated 42 million Americans will get a 25% average increase to their monthly grocery allowance beginning Oct. 1.
The Farm Bill, which passed in 2018, instructed the Department of Agriculture to re-evaluate the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) by 2022 to determine nutritional needs and costs for poorer citizens: It had not been updated since 2006. Pre-COVID pandemic, monthly benefits were $121 per person, but a temporary 15% increase in benefits was provided to help families struggling while America was shut down. That program will end on Sept. 30, and Biden’s new infusion will add a $3.5 billion boost to the SNAP benefits, an increase of $36.24 a month, or $1.19 per day, which totals $157.24 in monthly benefits. “To set SNAP families up for success, we need a Thrifty Food Plan that supports current dietary guidance on a budget,” explained Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services.
The USDA focused on four “key factors” to make its determination: current prices of food, Americans’ typical diet, nutrients in food items, and dietary guidance. The new plan includes more red and orange vegetables as well as fish. It also allows for more calories, reportedly to “reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle,” said the organization. According to Fortune, “The Biden review allowed benefit recipients 7% more calories, based on weight gains in the U.S. population and new exercise recommendations.”
The benefits were not designed to pay for all of a family’s groceries. Recipients are expected to spend 30% of their net income on food, and the SNAP program helps make up the difference. Still, according to a 2011 USDA study as reported by Fortune, “More than a quarter of the households enrolled in SNAP exhaust their monthly benefits in the first week after issuance, and more than half do so by the second week.”
Although the food program can be used only to purchase grocery items, this does not guarantee people will be buying the healthy choices recommended. Food stamps can be used just about everywhere: in grocery stores, convenience shops, and even fast-food restaurants. Advocates argue that the $22-a-day food budget isn’t enough; however, one trip to McDonald’s for a family of four can blow that right out of the water. Still, convenience is the way of the world, at least in the United States, and outside studies have reported that the current food plan would requires about two hours a day just to prepare meals, such as raw beans. Yet, the current American family spends only about 30 minutes on meal preparation.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Fortune Biden’s new plan will add about $20 billion per year for the program. Biden’s changes, the largest in the program’s history, do not require congressional approval and are based on the Department of Agriculture’s recommendations for the Thrifty Food Plan, which benefits about 12% of Americans.