Have you heard of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP?
SNAP is the new name for food stamps and now comes as an electronic card. A clear sign of harsh economic times in the U.S., 46 million people use food stamps, SNAP, to add food to their groceries each week. That’s 1 in every 7 people using the SNAP benefit and living at or below poverty levels.
Compared to 10 years ago, the number of people getting food stamp assistance has doubled. Now, a person who makes a total income over $1,211 a month can’t get SNAP benefits. For a family of 4 with over $2,500 a month, no benefits. Doing the math, $1,211 goes much farther in a small town than in a big city where rents are much higher. In New York City, anywhere within 10 miles of the city, the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment is $2,500 a month now. In some urban areas – New York for one – 1 in 5 children rely on soup kitchens and food pantry donations for meals, according to the nonprofit group, Food Bank for New York City. Here, about 500,000 children are living below the poverty line, and 20,000 children go to bed homeless. These statistics point toward a public health emergency. Are the children also going to bed hungry?
The amount of food benefits given through SNAP don’t change with location – not yet.
Costs and Benefits
The SNAP benefit comes from the US Department of Agriculture and costs over $75 billion a year. The program goal is to give people food security and access to healthy diet. At the current benefit rates, 1 person can get up to $200 a month toward food costs. A family of 4 can get up to $668 a month. That’s about $5.50 per person per day for the family.
Is it enough? Will it buy healthy foods and give us our 5 fruits and veggies a day?
The Institute of Medicine, IOM, recently published their study to find out if SNAP is giving enough. The study goal: “objective, evidence-based, science-driven definition of the adequacy of SNAP allotments.” The experts looked at the latest published papers from researchers and government.
The experts point out that the benefit assumes people spend about 30% of income on food, now out of date. Currently people only spend an average of 13% of income on food. Based on this, the benefit might be reduced. The report also shows that food security and healthy diets depend on the environment; where people live, and what’s in the stores around them. It also depends on individual and household factors like whether a person – or someone in the family – can cook. In areas where prices are high and for people who do not have the time or skill to cook from raw, unprocessed ingredients, SNAP is sometimes not enough.
A Healthier Future?
In the future, SNAP’s role in helping people who live in poverty get the food they need may include:
- lower overall benefits
- benefits based on local prices
- nutrition education
What do you think will help people reach “food security”?