New Proof That SNAP Benefits Are Too Low

As Hunger Action Month draws to a close, I’m recurring to what some of you followers may understandably view as an obsession — the need to increase SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Two recent reports by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers provide further proof.

Food Insecurity, Despite SNAP

As you may have read, USDA reported that 14.3% of American households — about 17.5 million — were food insecurity during at least part of 2013. At least 8 million had incomes low enough to qualify for SNAP.* And 53% of them received SNAP benefits during the entire year.

In other words, by definition, they didn’t always have “access to enough food for an active, healthy life,” benefits notwithstanding. They didn’t all suffer from hunger, however, because a household may be food insecure if it recurrently can’t afford balanced meals for everyone.

But 23.9% of them had what USDA calls “very low food security.” This means that at least one member, at least some of the time had to skimp on or altogether skip meals because the household didn’t have the resources to buy enough food, healthful or otherwise.

Both the overall food insecurity and the “very low food security” rates for SNAP households are somewhat higher than the 2012 rates. And those were somewhat higher than the 2011 rates.

Food Costs and SNAP Benefits

The households surveyed for the food (in)security report spent, on average, $50 per person per week for food — somewhat over $6.00 more per person than what the maximum SNAP benefit for a three-member household would have covered.

USDA provides a better — if somewhat oblique — measure of the adequacy of SNAP benefits by using the costs of its Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for determining those benefits.

Adjusting for household size and the age/gender configurations used for the market baskets the TFP comprises, researchers found that the typical food secure household spent 21% more for food than the TFP cost.

Another study by USDA researchers focused on whether adults who received SNAP benefits drank more high-calories beverages than other low-income adults. The full answer (behind a paywall, alas) is that they didn’t.

I mentioned the study here because, as the Food Research and Action Center helpfully reports, the average SNAP recipient surveyed lived in a household whose monthly benefits typically fell $209 short of what it spent on food.

All told, 81% of the recipients surveyed spent more on food than their SNAP benefits covered — obviously, a whole lot more in many cases. The average household’s benefits covered somewhat less than 58% of its monthly food bills.

As you may recall, Congress cut all SNAP benefits by using for other purposes funds the Recovery Act had allocated for a boost. The boost was originally supposed to last until the customary food-cost adjustments to SNAP benefits caught up with it.

The cuts went into effect last November. So they probably aren’t reflected in the food insecurity figures I cited above — or, I would guess, in the shortfalls the beverage survey found.

A Long-Standing Problem

We’ve had evidence that SNAP benefits are insufficient — and why — for a goodly number of years.

FRAC has repeatedly cited defects in the TFP — unrealistically low costs among them. It’s been raising this issue since the early 1990s, when it cited state and local studies showing that the actual costs of the TFP were higher for low-income families than the cost USDA set.

A two-city study conducted in 2007 found that a family of four receiving the maximum SNAP benefit would have had to come up with $2,500 more a year in the lower-cost city — and $3,165 in the higher-cost city — to cover the costs of foods in the TFP.

And, as a wrote awhile ago, a committee of National Research Council and Institute of Medicine experts conclude that one of the key assumptions built into the TFP is “out of synch” with the way most families put food on the table today — and inferentially, with the way many SNAP recipients can.

None of this seems to make a whit of difference to our federal policymakers. Witness the Farm Bill Congress recently passed — and what it might have passed if Republicans had controlled the Senate. But maybe some day ….

* The 8 million are households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty line — the standard gross income maximum for SNAP. The USDA report uses this percent of the FPL as the cut-off for reporting SNAP participation. But 27 states and the District of Columbia have exercised an option to raise their gross income cut-offs. So there may actually have been more food insecure SNAP households.



14 Responses to New Proof That SNAP Benefits Are Too Low

  1. zoom314 says:

    I’d sure like to get SNAP benefits, but it seems for Me to do that, I’d have to leave CA, the state of My birth and where My family is forever, why? Cause I am an SSI recipient, since I’m severely disabled and not likely to improve. People who get SSI are either going to to die within 1 year or are not expected to improve. That is the Medical standard, it can not be improved upon, unless you can abolish death itself and so far that is impossible to do. And I know why I and 1.3 million(or so) SSI recipients in CA don’t get SNAP, it’s cause the state of CA and the USDA/SSA have a dispute as to who gets SNAP and SSI benefits in CA, USDA wants to have everyone get SNAP, regardless of if they live in mixed income situations or like Myself where they live on their own. I only get SSI, no SNAP and no Rent Voucher, so I’m looking at spending $123.24 for food this month, out of the $877.40 that I get in SSI/SSP benefits($721+$156.40 in 2014 a month) and I can get penalized cause of out of date rules if I were to get help from other sources, these rules I and other recipients live under have never been altered since 1972, when SSI was signed into law by then President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, kind of ironic that Paul Ryan, a neo-repub/carpet-bagger/scallywag wants to get rid of SSI and to cause harm to people cause of His uninformed opinion that is not backed by any study, but then He hasn’t walked even a mile in My moccasins and won’t bother to, since He has accountants pay His bills and paid servants buy His food, He’s a rich snob who should not be in office representing His district in Wisconsin(1st district)… Repubs/baggers like Dave Camp(R-Michigan, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee) in the House Ways and Means Committee won’t allow any Social Security Bill to be voted on at all(like H.R.1601 Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2013, of which there is a petition with 94 signatures There is a Senate version of HR1601 called S2089 which is backed by Sen Warren and a few others, so these bills are not about spending and are not about increasing benefits of about expending the deficit at all, yet Repubs/baggers in Congress refuse to pass this needed legislation) and Paul Ryan wants to be the next Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

  2. zoom314 says:

    Minor correction: There is a Senate version of HR1601 called S2089 which is backed by Sen Warren and a few others, so these bills are not about spending and are not about increasing benefits or about expanding the deficit at all, yet Repubs/baggers in Congress refuse to pass this needed legislation) and Paul Ryan wants to be the next Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

  3. Kathryn Baer says:

    I don’t know of a dispute between USDA and the Social Security Administration. When SSI was created, California opted to add some money to SSI benefits equivalent to what was then the low SNAP benefits most people eligible for SSI received. Some recipients would receive more if California changed this policy. But there could be losers too. Here’s a good explanation,

    I wrote about the bills to lift the asset limit. They would do some other things too. One of them would eliminate the penalty for getting help from other sources. See, And you’re right. The bills aren’t going anywhere. I don’t know that we can lay all the blame on Republicans.

  4. zoom314 says:

    What I get from CA is a straight $156.40 and that is it. However I did find this pdf: {Quote}California’s cash-out privileges are currently based on the state’s obligation to pass through cost-of-living adjustments to the federal SSI benefit, not the inclusion of an “extra” $10 in the SSP. In truth, California could cut its current SSP of $205 down to $156 and still maintain its cash-out status. In addition, California’s state law does not earmark in the SSP a discrete $10 for the replacement of food stamps or the purchase of food. Because it is not a discrete amount,{/Quote} I also found this too(Which is from 2013 and not from 2003): {Quote}In order to benefit SSI/SSP-only households while not harming multi-person SSI/SSP households(which contain non SSI/SSP recipients), California applied for a federal waiver in 2010. California requested to waive the federal requirement to treat the state’s SSI/SSP population uniformly. The waiver would have allowed California to maintain
    Cashout for mixed SSI/SSP households, while ending Cashout for SSI/SSP-only households. If the waiver had been approved, the SSI/SSP income for mixed-SSI/SSP households would not count
    when determining the CalFresh benefit. SSI/SSP-only households
    would have been eligible for CalFresh. The waiver was rejected because the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not believe the agency has the authority to end Cashout for some, but not all, households.{/Quote} It’s up to the CA Legislature to end Cashout as that is well within the states power to do so, I’d call and ask My state Senator and Assembly member, but both are tone deaf Repubs/baggers and since I live in a Red District, they don’t like Me getting SSI in the 1st place, so why should they help anyone like Me? Even though SSI was signed into law by a Conservative Republican with some heart, President Richard M. Nixon, a Californian and a Republican.

  5. zoom314 says:

    Probably not in California(I’m in a RED state district, they don’t care or listen, they dictate to the voters), at the Federal Level, though Repubs/baggers in the House make the rules(Hastert Rule: Majority of the Majority approves of bills to be voted on and say what bills get voted on since they have a Majority(they have the power to ignore Democrats) and they vote as if they were 1 person(aka: the Borg from StarTrek), so can you blame democrats? Really? A Grayson staffer once told Me that He supports bills that are popular, like the one for expanding Social Security Benefits, He’s not a Sen Bernie Sanders, if Grayson thought repealing Social Security was popular, I’d guess He’d be all for that too… And that’s wrong, bills should not be a damned popularity contest…

  6. zoom314 says:

    Oh and that bill H.R.3118 is still in the House Ways and Means Committee, waiting to die at the end of 2014, unvoted on by the committee as Chairman Dave Camp(R-MI) won’t bring up Social Security related bills for a vote. HR3118( has 62 Democratic co-sponsors, HR1601( has 18 Democratic co-sponsors and in both bills there is not a single Republican to be found, not one… I’m for both bills, even though if Ryans 2015 budget were enacted there would be a lot of real people hurt and probably made homeless, I’d probably not be able to collect Social Security in 8 years when I turn 62(And if homeless My SSI would be toast too, as I have no family to live with(no room) and I have a cat and furniture), since from what I’ve read there would be drastic benefit cuts to current benefits, just to give Millionaires, Billionaires and Corporations(like KOCH Industries) more Tax Cuts(money that would be used for the people, Grand Theft and treason is what that is) and to enlarge our stupendously bloated Military Budget. Stingy RICH People don’t like money going to people who are old and/or can’t work anymore, they want all the money to play with, all in the name of modernization, Wall Street would get Fees from recipients, so that people could access their much reduced benefits. Paul Ryan was/is the instigator of the Social Security Modernization/Privatization plan under G.W.Bush, that copied the failed experiment in Chile.

  7. zoom314 says:

    One last post: It’s an important read and a very good reason to VOTE BLUE/Democratic on Tuesday November 4th 2014, I’m a member of the Democratic Party and I find this appalling, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.. {Quote}Paul Ryan’s 2015 budget also cuts an additional $385 billion from many mandatory programs for low-income Americans such as Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled, the school lunch and child nutrition programs, and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits for lower and middle-income working families. As if to add insult to injury, sickness, hunger, lack of education, and hungry school children, Ryan adds $250 billion in cuts on top of the discretionary caps included in the Republican sequester. None of the devastating cuts include privatizing Medicare that will burden seniors with added healthcare costs or the cuts to pensions Republicans yearn for to force middle-class Americans into poverty when they retire.{/Quote}

  8. […] know that SNAP benefits are too low to cover a full month’s worth of groceries — let alone a mix that would make for a […]

  9. […] this protected the program from cuts, let alone produced the needed benefits boost and other changes I tend to harp […]

  10. Otto says:

    I am at a loss as to why user zoom314 wants SNAP rather than cash? California is the BEST State for SNAP if you are disabled! I would rather go hungry and pay my bills. In other nations they do not have SNAP. They just give you money.

    As for the article and why “SNAP” does not pay for all of your monthly food? Because it is SNAP. SNAP is not “food stamps” as the article states. It is short for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

    Supplemental means that you are supposed to spend your own money on food, and SNAP supplements your food costs. It was never meant to pay for ALL of your food.

    Like people that complain about SSI not paying all their bill. It was never meant to. It is only a supplement to offset your other income.

  11. Kathryn Baer says:

    SNAP is, in fact, the updated name for food stamps. You’re right, however, that the benefit isn’t intended to cover full food costs. It’s to supplement the 30% of income recipients are expected to pay. For some, that’s very little. And we’ve lots of evidence that food costs are far higher than the plan used to set benefit levels.

    I personally think that giving people money would be a fine alternative. However, I doubt converting SNAP to a cash benefit would be politically feasible.

  12. zoom314 says:

    30% wow! In CA that would be $266.82 out of $889.40, CA gives and has given a paltry $10.00 a month since 1974, there is a bill in the Assembly that would give single SSI recipients another $199.00 or so per month(1.3 Million), the bill had died and pursuant to some rule was revived, the bill is AB474 and would cost about $2.5 Billion a year, that would help a lot, but then not everyone is able to work anymore, I’m sure not able to, nor did I ask to be disabled, then to be treated as a means to balance the budget or to stop HSR in CA, Republicans just don’t want their areas near HSR in the Central Valley, since that might turn the state Bluer than Deep Blue, yes HSR is being built as I type this, so far just 111 miles, 3 more segments and HSR in CA will be a reality, I don’t like being a pawn in someones game of Hostage… The bill needs a 2/3rds vote, since the bill is an appropriation and would come out of the General Fund at present, though there is a petition to tax properties above $3 Million to help with poverty reduction.

    1704. (15-0043, Amdt. #1)
    Property Tax Surcharge to Fund Poverty Reduction Programs. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
    Summary Date: 09/21/2015 |
    Circulation Deadline: 03/21/16 |
    Signatures Required: 585,407 –
    (25% of Signatures Reached 01/13/2016)

    Imposes additional surcharge on real property with an assessed value of over $3 million. Surcharge based on a sliding scale ranging from three-tenths of one percent for real property assessed at $3 million to eight-tenths of one percent for real property assessed at $10 million or more. Allocates revenue to numerous programs for the purpose of reducing poverty, including: prenatal services, expanded childcare, early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, job training grants, tax credits, and monetary aid. Surcharge expires in 20 years. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increased state revenues annually through 2036-37—estimated between $6 billion and $7 billion in 2017-18—from a new surcharge on high-value properties, with the revenues dedicated to various programs intended to reduce poverty.

  13. zoom314 says:

    Yes, you are right Kathryn Baer, Republicans can and do share the blame with some Democrats, just cause they want to be Bipartisan, problem is it’s on Republican terms(of surrender, not of compromise or of compassion, a compassionate conservative doesn’t exist, it’s a buzzword)…

    The GOP’s idea of Compassion today is Neglect or work people to death, sounds like Fascism to Me, the labor camps in Germany and Poland did that, males in one direction, females, old people, disabled and children in the other direction to the gas chambers, yes it did happen, My Dad was a WWII US Army Medic from 1942 in N.Africa, Sicily, Anzio(near Rome Italy), N.France, and Occupied Germany until Oct 1946 when He was sent home. He was recommended for 2 commendations for His paperwork on Allied and POW patients. The US 3rd Army liberated one death camp, dead people were stacked like cord wood, others who survived hell on Earth were walking skeletons. My Dad was a hero, He saved lives where possible. Not bad for Corporal.

  14. […] have no cash income, except what they can scrape together, plus SNAP (food stamp) benefits that rarely cover a full month’s worth of groceries and Medicaid, which will still leave the parents stuck for […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s