This week, the US Department of Agriculture revised the nutrition standards of the Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits program, which will result in the largest permanent increase to SNAP benefits in the program’s history.
SNAP benefits have been a lifeline for needy families and instrumental in the fight against food insecurity. Indeed, for many Legal Aid clients these benefits are their only source of income for food. However, the benefit amounts have been inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of recipients and, until this week, had not been updated since 1975. Therefore, in 2020 the average cost of a meal for a modest diet was 22% higher than the maximum SNAP amount. Approximately 23% of SNAP households exhausted their SNAP benefits by the middle of the month with, on average, households spending three-quarters of their benefits within 14 days of receiving them.
Food insecurity is associated with chronic health conditions, like hypertension and diabetes, in adults along with a slew of physical, mental, behavioral, and academic problems for children. In a study by the USDA, nearly 1 in 9 SNAP recipients indicated that they faced some barrier to a healthy diet with the most common barrier being the higher cost of healthier food. Furthermore, due to systemic income, food, and health inequalities, people of color are more likely to be affected by food insecurity and to have diet-related chronic diseases.
This week’s revised nutrition standards are more in line with current food prices, food consumption data, consumption patterns, and dietary guidance. For the approximately 143,479 DC residents currently receiving SNAP benefits, this means an increase of approximately $36 in benefits per person per month starting October 1, 2021. Legal Aid celebrates this much needed increase in SNAP benefits as a significant step towards ensuring food security for our clients and all low-income DC residents.