The change could impact approximately 500,000 Arkansans.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps feed more than 42 million Americans each month and soon, recipients will see an increase in their benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Monday released a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to calculate SNAP benefits. The assessment concluded the cost of a nutritious, practical, cost effective diet is 21 percent higher than the current Thrifty Food Plan. As a result, the average SNAP benefit – excluding additional funds provided as part of pandemic relief – will increase by $36.24 per person, per month beginning Oct. 1.
The cost adjustment is the first time the plan’s purchasing power has changed since it was first introduced in 1975, reflecting notable shifts in the food marketplace and consumers’ circumstances during the past 45 years, according to a press release.
“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. “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.”
In fiscal year 2019, 495,473 Arkansans received SNAP benefits at some point during the year, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. About 46 percent of recipients were children. Under the new adjustment, USDA officials estimate Arkansans’ benefits will increase from $533 to $678, an increase of $145.
In its re-evaluation, USDA officials analyzed four key factors identified in the 2018 Farm Bill: current food prices, what Americans typically eat, dietary guidance and the nutrients in food items. For example, the revised plan includes more fish and red and orange vegetables to align with recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
Additionally, the plan was calculated using updated purchasing data — collected from stores versus self-reported by households — to reflect the current price of foods in today’s marketplace. The revised Thrifty Food Plan also includes a modest increase in calories to reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle.
The 2021 Thrifty Food Plan puts healthy food in reach for SNAP families, according to USDA officials. Recent evidence consistently shows that benefit levels are too low to provide for a realistic, healthy diet, even with households contributing their own funds toward groceries.
A USDA study published earlier this summer found that nearly nine out of 10 SNAP participants reported facing barriers to achieving a healthy diet, with the most common barrier being the cost of healthy foods. These findings were echoed in listening sessions USDA held with a broad range of Thrifty Food Plan stakeholders.
For more information about your SNAP benefits, you can contact the Arkansas Department of Human Services.