Despite cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 78% of U.S. counties continue to not cover the cost of moderately priced meals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture modifies SNAP benefits through a COLA adjustment to respond to food price inflation. In the last quarter of 2022, the cost of a moderately priced meal was $3.14, which is 15% more than the maximum SNAP per-meal benefit of $2.74.
The 2023 COLA—effective Oct. 13, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2023—had significant positive effects:
The number of counties with “adequate” benefits increased from 27 to 687, while the share of counties with a gap between SNAP benefits and average meal costs decreased from 99% to 78%.
Nationally, the gap between SNAP benefits and meal costs dropped from $0.71 per meal (29%) to $0.40 per meal (15%).
The gap between SNAP benefits and meal costs in the five counties with the largest gaps declined from 75% to 50% after the implementation of the 2023 COLA.
Four of the five counties with the biggest gaps were rural: Leelanau County, Mich.; Teton County, Idaho; and Lincoln County and Teton County, Wyo.
The gap between the cost of a meal and the maximum benefit was overall larger in urban areas than in rural areas.
The five urban counties with the largest gaps were New York County, N.Y.; Marin County and San Francisco County, Calif.; Butte County, Idaho; and Arlington County, Va.
As pandemic protections expire and food costs remain high, it is important to maximize SNAP benefits to ensure families with low incomes achieve food security.
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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides short-term financial support to individuals and families furthest from economic opportunity who struggle to afford food.
For millions of households, a lack of reliable access to healthy food hinders children's growth and development, and increases risk for obesity and challenges to health and wellbeing throughout life.