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SNAP boost will put more, healthier food on plates

Thrifty grocery shoppers will have more dollars to spend, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to increase the average monthly benefit to people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The USDA released on Monday a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate the amount of aid provided per person, per month. The analysis confirmed many recipients’ experience: Current benefit levels are too low to provide for a realistic, healthy diet.

As a result, the average SNAP benefit – excluding additional funds provided as part of pandemic relief – will increase for the U.S. fiscal year 2022, which begins on Oct. 1, 2021. The boost marks the first time the purchasing power of the plan has changed since it was started in 1975.

In Missouri, the average benefit is rising to $1,486, instead of $1,168, an increase of $318.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: “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. Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more.”

In its re-evaluation, USDA was driven by the latest available data on four key factors: current food prices, what Americans typically eat, dietary guidance, and the nutrients in food items. For example, the revised plan includes recommendations to eat more fish and red and orange vegetables, and less highly processed, salty and sugary foods.

One study found that 10 percent of the money was spent on sugary drinks alone – about three times the amount spent on milk.

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 anticipated calories to support an active lifestyle.

USDA study published earlier this summer found that nearly nine out of 10 SNAP participants reported that healthy food was too expensive for them to afford under the current plan. The cost of a nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet was found to be 21 percent higher than the funds provided. So the average SNAP benefit will increase by $36.24 per person, per month, or $1.19 per day.

SNAP helps more than 42 million Americans – one in eight – each month, particularly in households with children, who have been disproportionately impacted by hunger during COVID.

Americans must be below certain income limits in order to be eligible for the program – for a four-person household, their net monthly income can’t be above $2,184.

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Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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