The USDA has just released the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data for fiscal year 2012. For families in Colorado, the news could have been better. The average monthly benefits per household in Colorado have decreased—from $317.73 in 2011 to $305.27 in 2012. While that doesn’t seem like much, in the long run, it means less money for families already struggling to purchase enough food to last them through the month. It doesn’t help that the cost of food has increased in the U.S. due to a drought and shifts in the market, and that food prices stand to increase even more if Congress continues to delay passing the farm bill. Ultimately though, more Coloradans are aware of the program, thanks to Hunger Free Colorado and many other organizations committed to getting families connected with this resource.
Earlier this year, I myself was on SNAP for a few months while I was receiving unemployment benefits, and I found my experiences to be similar to many families in Colorado. I was fortunate enough to receive the maximum allotment of $200 for individuals, which left me with about $6.67 to purchase food for three meals a day. Even with careful, economic meal planning (such as buying one protein to use in multiple recipes, using rice and potatoes as starchy fillers for meals, making iced tea as a cheap, flavored beverage, etc.), paying close attention to sales and coupons, and buying store or off-brand products, I still consistently found myself short at the end of the month. I would have to set aside extra money from my unemployment benefits to ensure I could purchase additional food, and this was often difficult to manage while still paying all my bills.
Some might say this is how the program was designed—to only be a supplement to food expenses rather than one’s entire food budget. However, there are several problems with that notion.
First, many families, through necessity, do rely on SNAP for their entire food budget for the month. There is often no additional income to contribute to the food budget when rent, medical expenses and other bills must be paid. If this program is truly designed to prevent adults, children, and families from going hungry, the reality of how it is used must be taken into account.
Second, the monthly allotments for SNAP are calculated using the “Thrifty Food Plan,” a USDA-designed food plan that incorporates data on consumption behavior, food prices, and dietary recommendations to determine the standard for a “nutritious diet at minimal cost.” Essentially, the USDA uses this data to determine what food you ought to be able to buy with the SNAP benefits you receive. One issue with this food plan is that the cost constraints applied to the Thrifty Food Plan have not changed since 1975, meaning the USDA has attempted multiple times to make current food costs and nutritional recommendations fit into the same small budget. Several studies, including a recent one by the Food Research and Action Center, have shown the Thrifty Food Plan—on which SNAP benefits are based—has unrealistic assumptions about food availability, affordability, time for preparation, and lacks the variety and nutrition called for in dietary guidelines. The cost of the plan even exceeds the SNAP allotment in many parts of the country, meaning many beneficiaries have little hope trying to purchase a rudimentary month’s worth of food using SNAP benefits. I can attest from personal experience that the money allotted by SNAP is most often inadequate to purchase even basic, nutritious food, and it is evident many families struggle with this reality every day.
Colorado needs a well designed, well funded SNAP program to get food on the tables of those who need it. Help protect SNAP benefits in Colorado. Click here to learn how you can be an advocate!