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2024 SNAP Benefit Increases Aren’t Enough. Here’s Why

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The USDA recently announced its cost-of-living increase to SNAP food benefits for the 2024 fiscal year. Starting this October, the maximum monthly benefit for a household of four will increase to $973 in most U.S. states. That’s a 3.6% increase from the $939 monthly maximum a four-person household can currently receive.

On the face of it, a 3.6% increase in food benefits beats the overall change in living costs, and it’s certainly better than nothing. But when you dig deeper, it isn’t enough to cover the higher food prices we’ve all been grappling with. Moreover, many families will struggle to feed their families on that amount. Ultimately, low-income households have been hammered financially on all sides in recent years, and an extra $34 a month for a family of four won’t go very far at all.

Here are three reasons why the increase is not high enough.

1. It isn’t really in line with inflation

Every June, the USDA re-evaluates SNAP benefits based on changes to living costs that year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — the gurus when it comes to tracking these things — overall living costs in June 2023 were 3% higher than the year before. The trouble is that inflation has not affected all things equally. And food prices have increased much more than 3%.

The cost of buying food to eat at home increased 5.7% from June 2022 to 2023. That would be a much more realistic figure to use to calculate food benefit increases. A 5.7% increase in SNAP benefits for a family of four would take the maximum monthly amount to $993 instead of $973. When you’re budgeting for a bit more than $2.50 per person per meal, that extra $20 a month could make a big difference to your bank account balance.

Here’s how the maximum SNAP benefits for a family of four break down in different scenarios:

2023 Fiscal Year (Current) 2024 Fiscal Year (From Oct. 1, 2023) Hypothetical 2024 (5.7% increase)
Maximum monthly SNAP benefit $939 $973 $993
Daily household food budget $30.87 $31.98 $32.65
Amount per person each day $7.72 $8.00 $8.16
Amount per person per meal $2.57 $2.67 $2.72
Data: USDA and author calculations

2. Current SNAP benefits don’t cover the cost of a meal in most U.S. states

If you’re wondering how far that $2.67 per person per meal might go, the answer is not far enough. Indeed, a recent Urban Institute report said, “SNAP benefits did not cover the cost of a meal in 99% of counties in 2022.” It found that on average, a modestly priced meal cost $3.14. Even at 2022 prices, average food costs are higher than the 2023 and 2024 SNAP benefits.

The Urban Institute calculated the average meal cost by using data from the U.S. Census Bureau on weekly food expenditures. Researchers looked at what SNAP eligible households actually spent on food. This is a very different methodology from the USDA’s approach which estimates the cost of its thrifty food basket for a family of four. One is based on real people’s lives and the other uses a hypothetical shopping trip.

3. Food costs more in certain areas and SNAP benefits don’t fully address this

Food prices can vary dramatically depending on where you live. In fairness, SNAP benefits are already different in states like Hawaii and Alaska where living costs are considerably higher. But those aren’t the only places where food costs more than average. If you live in a food desert — an area where it’s difficult to access healthy, affordable food — your SNAP benefits won’t go as far.

The Urban Institute research showed that in some parts of the country, meals cost more than 50% more than SNAP benefits in 2022. For example, in Wyoming’s Lincoln and Teton Counties, a modestly priced meal cost $4.30 — 58% more than the average SNAP benefit. A paper by Johns Hopkins university pointed to evidence of “racially segregated food environments” and called for more targeted cost of living benefits.

Bottom line

Hunger in the U.S. is not going away. According to the USDA, over 10% of households experienced food insecurity at some point in 2021. This agrees with Feeding America data that says that more than 53 million people visited a food bank in the same year.

SNAP benefits do a huge amount to ensure people have enough to eat. And there are ways to stretch your benefits — for example, by using cash back apps or finding a local Double Up Food Bucks program. But if benefits don’t increase in line with the actual cost of food, Americans will continue to go hungry. Particularly if the benefit amount was already too low.

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