FMI-The Food Industry Association and the National Grocers Association voiced their support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated Thrifty Food Plan, which will increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits beginning this fall.
The USDA released the revised Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate SNAP benefits, this week. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress had directed the USDA to conduct a data-driven review of the plan, an initiative later backed in an executive order from President Joe Biden in January. USDA said the reassessment found that the cost of a “nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet” was 21% higher than the existing Thrifty Food Plan.
As a result, the average SNAP benefit (excluding additional funds from COVID-19 pandemic relief) will rise by $36.24 per person monthly, or $1.19 per day, effective Oct. 1, the start of the 2022 fiscal year. USDA noted that the cost adjustment marks the first change to the Thrifty Food Plan’s purchasing power since its introduction in 1975, based on shifts in the food marketplace and consumer circumstances over the past 45 years.
“Over the years, we’ve increased our focus on providing nutritionally significant products to SNAP customers and to the nationwide network of food banks. Food retail is the largest source of donations to Feeding America’s food bank network, which provided food assistance to more than 40 million Americans last year,” Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer and senior vice president of government relations at FMI, said in a statement on the Thrifty Food Plan update. “As private partners with the government ensuring efficient redemption of SNAP benefits in every community across the country, retailers look forward to continuing to maintain and build upon the successes of the SNAP program.”
A USDA study found that nearly nine of 10 SNAP participants faced barriers to achieving a healthy diet, with most citing the cost of healthy foods.
NGA noted that last year’s 15% hike in SNAP benefits, authorized by Congress as part of a pandemic relief, is set to expire on Sept. 30, the day before the 27% increase from the Thrifty Food Plan re-evaluation goes into effect.
“Independent community grocers play a critical role in supporting their communities through the public-private partnership of SNAP, which has a positive impact on local economies, as reflected in NGA’s latest economic impact study,” commented Molly Pfaffenroth, senior director of government relations at NGA. “The Thrifty Food Plan update announced this week is long overdue and is an important step in providing families with greater access to nutritious food.”
In its review of the Thrifty Food Plan, USDA examined current food prices, what Americans typically eat, the latest dietary guidance and nutrients in food products. The plan also was reassessed using updated purchasing data — collected from stores instead of reports by households — to gauge current food pricing. A modest increase in calories, too, was included to reflect the latest data and support active lifestyles.
USDA said recent evidence showed existing benefit levels to be insufficient in providing a realistic, healthy diet, even with households contributing their own funds toward groceries. A USDA study released earlier this summer found that nearly nine of 10 SNAP participants faced barriers to achieving a healthy diet, with most citing the cost of healthy foods.
“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,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stated. “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.”
Currently, the SNAP program helps feed more than 42 million Americans — about one in eight people — each month, USDA reported. The program is managed by the USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service agency.
FMI’s Hatcher described SNAP as “perhaps the most successful public-private partnership of the last 50 years” and pointed out how the pandemic also has impacted the nation’s food shopping and eating behavior.
“The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed consumer grocery shopping habits. FMI research on shopper trends points to a strong desire among consumers to strengthen immunity and prevent disease, while preparing more meals at home and placing higher value on enjoying food with others,” she explained. “As 44% of Americans identify health and nutrition priorities in cooking, food retailers and suppliers continue to develop convenient, health-focused strategies to help all shoppers — including the 42 million Americans on feeding assistance — stay inspired with easy meal solutions.”
SNAP beneficiaries also can buy groceries online through participating retailers through the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. Under the initiative, launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in April 2019, 47 states and the District of Columbia now allow SNAP users to shop and pay for groceries online.