How Far Did Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits Fall Short of Covering the Cost of a Meal in 2020?

A girl looks at brocolli in a store.

A mapping tool compares the maximum SNAP meal benefit with the national average meal cost of $2.41 and finds that even the higher SNAP benefits still fall short for residents of both urban and rural counties.



The Issue

SNAP is a crucial lifeline for millions, but the maximum SNAP benefit still leaves a gap in covering the cost of food for many families with low incomes. If the program does not cover the cost of a meal, many households will be at a high risk of experiencing food insecurity.

Key Findings

The temporary increase in SNAP benefits along with additional economic assistance has helped reduce rates of food insecurity and is anticipated to help reduce rates of poverty significantly this year as well, but meal costs still surpass food assistance benefits in many places.

  • Before the increase in the maximum SNAP benefit, it did not cover the national average meal cost in 96% of counties.

  • After the increase in the maximum SNAP benefit, it still does not cover the national average meal cost in 41% of counties.

  • 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.


Increasing SNAP benefits, considering food price variation among the communities where program participants live, and providing the maximum SNAP benefit to all people living in America with incomes less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, would lead to a precipitous decline in food insecurity and ensure that SNAP can continue its mission of supporting the purchasing power of low-income families.

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.