An updated mapping tool finds 21 percent of U.S. counties experience a gap between the newly revised maximum SNAP meal benefit and the average cost of a moderately priced meal in their respective regions, including rural areas, which are often omitted from discussions about benefit adequacy.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture increased the maximum SNAP benefit following an update to the Thrifty Food Plan, however, more than one-in-five households still do not receive sufficient SNAP benefits, leaving a gap in covered food costs for millions of families with low-incomes.
Analysis shows that while high food prices are often viewed as an urban challenge, these shortcomings are also experienced in a diversity of geographic locations, most noticeably rural.
On average, for counties with gaps, the maximum benefit falls short of an average modestly priced meal by 23 cents, meaning the average cost of a modestly priced meal is 10 percent higher than maximum SNAP benefits.
In urban areas with a gap, the average holds true, with a 23-cent gap in benefit adequacy. But in rural areas with a gap, the gap is 28 cents, meaning modestly priced meals cost 12 percent more than maximum benefits.
The 20 counties with the largest gap between maximum SNAP benefits and the average cost of a low-income meal include high-cost urban areas, such as New York and San Francisco, as well as smaller rural counties such as Blaine County, Idaho; El Dorado County, Calif; and Leelanau County, Mich.
Given the potential for SNAP to significantly impact a families’ health and well-being, additional program investments that benefit sufficiency in every county of the United States can be an effective strategy to reduce the number of families who struggle to afford an acceptable diet.
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