Special to The Tribune
AUBURN — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. As a result, the average SNAP benefit – excluding additional funds provided as part of pandemic relief – will increase for Fiscal Year 2022 beginning on Oct. 1, 2021.
Sondra Parmer, program leader for nutrition programs with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University, said the increase will help Alabamians access more nutritious foods.
“Fifteen percent of Alabama residents are SNAP recipients, which is about 727,000 people,” Parmer said. “The revised plan will help many Alabama families facing food and financial barriers.”
The re-evaluation found the cost of a nutritious, practical and cost-effective diet is 21 percent higher than the current Thrifty Food Plan. As a result, the average SNAP benefit will increase by $36.24 per person per month — or $1.19 per day — at the beginning of the fiscal year 2022 on Oct. 1. This excludes additional funds available as part of pandemic relief.
As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill – and with the expressed support of President Biden’s January 22 Executive Order – the USDA conducted a data-driven review of the Thrifty Food Plan. The resulting cost adjustment is the first time the purchasing power of the plan has changed since it was first introduced in 1975, reflecting notable shifts in the food marketplace and consumers’ circumstances over the past 45 years.
“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition – it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”
In its re-evaluation, USDA was driven by the latest available data on the four key factors identified in the 2018 Farm Bill: current food prices, what Americans typically eat, dietary guidance, and the nutrients in food items. For example, the revised plan includes more fish and red and orange vegetables to align with recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Additionally, the plan was calculated using updated purchasing data – collected from stores versus self-reported by households – to reflect the current price of foods in today’s marketplace. The revised Thrifty Food Plan also includes a modest increase in calories to reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle.
The 2021 Thrifty Food Plan puts healthy food in reach for SNAP families. Recent evidence consistently shows that benefit levels are too low to provide for a realistic, healthy diet, even with households contributing their own funds toward groceries. A USDA study published earlier this summer found that nearly nine out of 10 SNAP participants reported facing barriers to achieving a healthy diet, with the most common barrier being the cost of healthy foods. These findings were echoed in listening sessions USDA held with a broad range of Thrifty Food Plan stakeholders.