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SNAP Benefits and Rising Food Prices: How Low-Income Households Cope

Food is a basic necessity for human survival, and yet, in recent years, rising food prices have threatened to make it an unaffordable luxury for many families. For some households, the impact can be felt even more acutely because they rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help them put food on the table.

In this article, we will explore the rising food prices and their impact on SNAP benefits, as well as how SNAP benefits are calculated.

Rising Food Prices and Impact on SNAP Benefits

Food Price Inflation

Food-at-home index and Consumer Price Index are two measures used to track the cost of living in the United States. Changes in food prices are captured in the food-at-home index, which measures the cost of food purchased at grocery stores and supermarkets, while the Consumer Price Index measures the overall cost of living, including food, transportation, clothing, and housing.

The inflation rate is the percentage increase in prices over a specific period.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, there has been a sharp increase in food prices, particularly meat and poultry prices, which saw a 19% surge in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

According to the USDA, the food-at-home index increased by 3.7% in 2020, the largest annual increase since 2011. The pandemic has caused disruption in the food supply chain, an increase in demand for food, and inflation.

SNAP Benefit Adjustments

The USDA calculates SNAP benefits based on the Thrifty Food Plan, which is a market basket of foods that meets federal nutrition guidelines and is intended to provide a low-cost but nutritious diet to people. The Thrifty Food Plan is used to determine maximum allotments, which are the maximum amount of benefits a household can receive.

The maximum allotments are adjusted annually based on changes in the cost of living. The cost-of-living adjustment is intended to ensure that SNAP benefits keep pace with food prices so that low-income households can continue to afford basic nutrition.

The adjustments are based on changes in the cost of food, housing, and utilities, among other things. Income eligibility standards also impact SNAP benefits.

A household’s gross and net monthly income is the primary factor used in determining eligibility for SNAP benefits. Gross monthly income is the total income earned in a month before any deductions, while net monthly income is the income remaining after allowable deductions are taken into account.

The poverty level for a family of four in the U.S. in 2021 is $26,500 per year. Allowable deductions include things like rent, utilities, and child care expenses.

Calculation of SNAP Benefits

Thrifty Food Plan

The Thrifty Food Plan is used to calculate SNAP benefits and is based on the cost of a low-cost but nutritious diet for a family. The plan assumes that households will prepare all of their meals at home using a set of standard recipes that provides the number of servings required for each food group.

The diet is intended to meet the minimum daily nutritional requirements for a healthy diet. The Thrifty Food Plan accounts for economies of scale, which means that the cost of feeding a household of two will be less per person than the cost of feeding a household of one.

Larger households receive larger allotments due to the cost of feeding more people.

Income Eligibility Standards

To be eligible for SNAP benefits, a household’s gross monthly income must be below 130% of the poverty level. Net monthly income must be below 100% of the poverty level.

Households with elderly or disabled members may qualify for higher income limits. Allowable deductions are subtracted from gross income to determine net income.

Deductions include expenditures on housing, child care, telephone, and medical expenses. The amount of the deduction will vary depending on the actual expenditures incurred and the applicable deduction amount.


Rising food prices have a significant impact on low-income families, particularly those who rely on SNAP benefits to put food on the table. Inflation rates have caused disruptions in the food supply chain and led to increased demand for food, impacting the prices.

SNAP benefits are adjusted annually to keep pace with changes in the cost of living, and the Thrifty Food Plan is used to ensure that SNAP recipients can afford basic nutrition. Knowing how SNAP benefits are calculated can help households understand how much they can expect to receive and how they can best make use of these benefits to provide healthy and nutritious meals for their families.

Historical Trends in SNAP Benefits

Over the years, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has undergone significant changes. The program was established during the Great Depression as part of the Food Stamp Act of 1939 to help farmers and low-income households purchase food.

Since then, the program has undergone many changes to adapt to evolving social and economic conditions.

Decline in Benefit Payments

While SNAP benefits have been a vital lifeline for millions of low-income households, there has been a steady decline in yearly SNAP benefit payments since 2013. According to the USDA, the average rate of decline in SNAP benefits from 2013 to 2019 was approximately 2% per year.

This was due to cost reductions and improved efficiency measures in the program’s administration. This trend changed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.

Increase in Benefit Payments

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant increase in food prices, which, in turn, led to an increase in SNAP benefit payments. The USDA allocated $2 billion in COVID-19 assistance to help SNAP recipients buy food during the pandemic.

Additionally, the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provided a 15% increase in SNAP benefits from January 2021 to June 2021, which was extended to September 2021. The Biden administration has also proposed increasing funding for SNAP in fiscal year 2022 to keep up with inflation rates.

Current SNAP Benefit Allotments

Maximum Allotments by Household Size

The maximum SNAP benefit allotments for fiscal year 2022 increased due to inflation and provide more assistance to families in need. For a one-person household, the maximum allotment is $234 per month, while a two-person household can receive up to $430 per month.

The maximum allotment increases with each additional member in the household, with a four-person household able to receive up to $835 per month, and an eight-person household eligible for up to $1,504 per month.

Higher Allotments for Some States

In addition to the federal maximum allotments, some states receive higher allotments due to their higher cost of living. These states include Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, where the cost of groceries and other goods is typically higher than in other parts of the country.

For instance, the maximum allotment for a four-person household in Alaska is $1,122 per month, while a four-person household in Hawaii can receive up to $1,196 per month. SNAP benefits are adjusted regularly to ensure that they keep pace with inflation rates and provide enough assistance to help low-income households purchase food.

SNAP benefits are especially important during times of crisis, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in significant economic downturn and food insecurity for many Americans. The program supports millions of families and individuals across the United States and remains a vital tool in the fight against hunger and poverty.

In conclusion, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a critical lifeline for millions of low-income households in the United States. Rising food prices have threatened access to nutrition for many families, and SNAP benefits provide essential support.

The USDA calculates SNAP benefits based on the Thrifty Food Plan, which ensures that beneficiaries can afford basic nutrition. The maximum allotments for SNAP benefits are adjusted annually, with additional support during times of crisis.

While there has been a decline in benefit payments over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in SNAP benefit payments. The program remains a vital tool in the fight against hunger and poverty, providing much-needed assistance to those in need.

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