Feds raise food assistance benefits to meet growing costs

Massachusetts

BOSTON (SHNS) – The average federal nutrition assistance benefit is set to increase by about $36 per person per month in October, the result of adjustments based on food prices, dietary habits and guidance, and nutritional information.

A 2018 farm bill directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to re-evaluate its Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to calculate benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by 2022 and every five years afterward.

The USDA released its re-evaluated plan on Monday, saying the new version includes more fish and red and orange vegetables along with a “modest increase in calories to reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle.”

The department said its evaluation found the cost for a “nutritious, practical, cost effective diet” is 21 percent higher than the current Thrifty Food Plan. When the new federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, the average SNAP benefit will increase by $36.24 per person per month, or $1.19 per day, excluding additional funds provided as part of pandemic relief efforts.

USDA estimates show that total SNAP benefits in Massachusetts stand to increase by $428 million under the new plan, to a projected $2 billion.

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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.”

Congressman Jim McGovern said work to end hunger is still “just beginning,” calling for “a White House conference on food, nutrition, hunger and health.”

“Even before COVID hit, too many people in my district and across America couldn’t afford the basic human right of access to nutritious food,” the Worcester Democrat said. “By carefully reviewing the Thrifty Food Plan as Congress required in our bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill — and modernizing prices to align with the real cost of a healthy diet — the USDA is bringing federal nutrition assistance programs in line with evidence-based research showing that increasing benefits prevents hunger and improves health.”

In January, as part of a suite of executive actions aimed at providing relief to families and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden asked the USDA to consider beginning the revision process for the Thrifty Food Plan.

At the time, the White House described the current plan as “out of date with the economic realities most struggling households face when trying to buy and prepare healthy food.”

The nonprofit Hunger Free America said 42 million Americans rely on SNAP to meet their nutritional needs, and that benefits will increase for all recipients. Joel Berg, the group’s CEO, said the boost “will allow families participating in the program to be able to afford healthier food without fear of running out of benefits each month.”

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