WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2013 – The ability of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to promote food security and a healthy diet can be measured and influenced by several factors including household resources and environmental surroundings, according to a report released today by the National Academies.
The report, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy,” made recommendations to assist the Agriculture Department in creating an objective definition of the adequacy of SNAP allotments through an evidence-based assessment.
“Ultimately, this effort could help to provide SNAP participants with greater opportunities to become more food secure and to have access to a healthy diet,” the report said.
The report, prepared by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, said the maximum SNAP allotment is based on the “Thrifty Food Plan,” which assumes participants will largely buy less expensive, unprocessed ingredients to make a meal rather than consume prepared meals.
“This means that a SNAP allotment that is adequate for a household with sufficient time and skill to purchase and prepare many meals from scratch, with easy access to food stores, and living in a relatively low cost part of the country, may be inadequate for a household without these attributes,” the report said.
The report said the influence of several SNAP program characteristics should be evaluated with factors such as the value of time to buy and prepare foods and the variability of food costs. Other factors to consider, the report said, include how families spend household dollars on food as well as the amount they spend, and how the cost of housing and medical care affects their spending on food.
“More information is needed on how those expenses affect the purchasing power of the SNAP allotment,” the report said.
The report said SNAP participants who reside in areas with higher food prices have difficulties meeting their needs with the current benefit. Another limitation experienced by low-income households is getting to stores that offer healthy foods at a lower cost.
“Low-income minority populations are more likely than others to have limited access to stores selling a variety of healthy foods at a reasonable cost,” the report said.
The USDA should evaluate several characteristics of the program, the report said, including examining the effects of SNAP participants buying prepared meals, the portion of household income participants are expected to devote to buying food, and the geographic variations in food prices.
SNAP, formally known as the food stamp program, is routinely under fire from congressional Republicans and budget hawk Democrats as being wasteful. The USDA recently announced several enforcement actions involving SNAP fraud.
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