WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA), Chairman of the House Rules Committee, sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack calling on the Biden Administration to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits.
On March 3, 2021, USDA announced it had begun updating the Thrifty Food Plan—a calculation of the minimum cost of a healthy diet on which SNAP benefits are based. Research shows that while SNAP reduces food insecurity and improves health outcomes for recipients, benefits are too low to fully meet their nutritional needs. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that SNAP does not cover the cost of a low-income meal in 96% of U.S. counties.
“I’m proud we fought for and secured emergency assistance to hungry families during the pandemic, but the bottom line is that the SNAP benefit was inadequate even before the pandemic hit,” said McGovern. “I’ve spoken directly to Secretary Vilsack about the need to extend the 15% SNAP boost Congress provided in the American Rescue Plan so that food insecure families are not left behind during the pandemic and as we recover. The Biden administration can and must take action to permanently increase SNAP benefits.”
Previous updates of the Thrifty Food Plan have been cost-neutral, changing to reflect updated nutrition guidance and inflation but not to adjust for substantial and growing evidence that the benefits provided by SNAP are inadequate to support a nutritious diet.
“This is one of the reasons we need a White House hunger conference—to bring the full weight of the federal government to think holistically and develop new ways to end hunger in this country once and for all. Building back better needs to also mean building back hunger free,” added McGovern.
The letter, led by House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chairwoman Jahana Hayes and signed by all Democratic Members of the Subcommittee, is copied below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
We write to thank you for your work to ensure that low-income Americans have the support they need to put food on their tables, both during the pandemic and beyond. As Members of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, we support USDA's undertaking to make certain that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation's largest and most successful anti-hunger program, is up-to-date and reflective of the latest science and data available.
As you know, on March 3, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA announced that the Department had begun the process of updating the Thrifty Food Plan - a calculation of the minimum cost of a healthy diet, on which SNAP benefits are based - to better reflect the cost of food and healthy eating today. This update, the first in fifteen years, was required by the strongly bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill - the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L.115-334), which mandated that USDA reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan "by 2022 and every five years thereafter" based on "current food prices, food composition data, consumption patterns, and dietary guidance."
Reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan is a critically important step towards ensuring that SNAP benefits adequately support a nutritious diet. Every day, SNAP bolsters the food security of more than 42 million Americans, more than 88 percent of whom faced one or more barrier to achieving a healthy diet prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, research shows that, while SNAP reduces food insecurity and improves health outcomes for recipients, benefits are too low to fully meet their nutritional needs. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that SNAP does not cover the cost of a low-income meal in 96 percent of U.S. counties, with both urban and rural counties among those with the highest disparities. Further, an analysis of USDA data found that SNAP households ate significantly less healthily in the last 10 days of their monthly benefit cycle, when they are most likely to run out of assistance; a number of studies have also shown that caloric intake for SNAP recipients decreases dramatically in the final days of their benefit cycle.
The inadequacy of SNAP benefits is due in no small part to the four previous updates to the Thrifty Food Plan being held cost-neutral. As a result, while the Thrifty Food Plan has changed to reflect changing nutrition guidance, the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan not changed, except for adjustments for inflation, for more than sixty years. This is despite massive changes in Americans' dietary patterns, our understanding of nutrition science, and our food system itself, as well as substantial and growing evidence that the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan is inadequate to support a nutritious diet. Therefore, we strongly believe that the USDA's ongoing Thrifty Food Plan reevaluation should not be cost-neutral.
We look forward to seeing the results of USDA's work to reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan, as directed by the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill, and encourage you to adjust SNAP benefits to reflect your findings as soon as practicable. Our family, friends, and neighbors in need, many of whom are still struggling to recover from the dire economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, deserve no less. Thank you again for your dedication to this important work, and for your tireless commitment to "do right and feed everyone."