The Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021, introduced by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), will boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for all participants and make further improvements. Under H.R. 4077/S. 2192, SNAP benefit adequacy will be improved by
- replacing the Thrifty Food Plan with the more appropriate Low-Cost Food Plan as the basis for SNAP allotments;
- eliminating the cap on the SNAP Excess Shelter Deduction; and
- streamlining ways for states to establish a SNAP Standard Excess Medical Deduction for persons who are elderly or have disabilities (with a minimum standard of $140).
The bill also will eliminate time limits on SNAP eligibility that affect working-age adults who cannot document sufficient hours of work, and will provide a pathway for U.S. territories to transition to SNAP.
This legislation will address SNAP’s key shortcoming: the inadequacy of benefits. The evidence shows that SNAP plays a critical role in alleviating poverty, reducing food insecurity, and improving health and well-being. However, inadequate benefits severely limit the program’s ability to do even more to address these issues. Benefits for most households are not enough to get them through the entire month without hunger or being forced to sacrifice nutrition quality. And yet the research is clear: more adequate SNAP benefits improve participant food security, economic security, nutrition, health, and performance in school.
In 2013, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) outlined the many factors that explain why SNAP benefits do not get most families through the month with a minimally adequate diet. These include the lag in SNAP benefits keeping up with inflation and households’ shelter costs that consume income that SNAP rules incorrectly treat as available for food purchases (therefore reducing SNAP allotments). The latter is one of the factors that will be addressed under H.R. 4077/S. 2192.
An analysis by FRAC, released one year before the IOM findings, also found that SNAP benefits are inadequate, in part, because they are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s impractical and flawed Thrifty Food Plan, which is the current basis for SNAP allotments. The Thrifty Food Plan
- assumes impractical lists of foods;
- lacks the variety called for in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans;
- unrealistically assumes adequate facilities and time for food preparation;
- unrealistically assumes food availability, affordability, and adequate transportation;
- ignores special dietary needs; and
- costs more than the SNAP allotment in many parts of the country, even when accounting for these shortcomings.
FRAC has long called for replacing the Thrifty Food Plan with the Low-Cost Food Plan, which is another one of the key changes to SNAP under H.R. 4077/S. 2192. The latter plan is generally in line with what low- and moderate-income families report they need to spend on food, as opposed to the lower amount provided by the Thrifty Food Plan. The Low-Cost Food Plan also allows for greater food variety and choices to support a healthful, palatable diet.
There is overwhelming research on the gains from more adequate SNAP benefits, and multiple policy solutions from advocates and researchers on how to improve benefit adequacy. Action is long overdue. Join FRAC in urging Congress and the Biden administration to enact this important legislation.