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U.S. Families Struggle as SNAP Benefits Fail to Cover Rising Food Costs

U.S. Families Struggle as SNAP Benefits Fail to Cover Rising Food Costs

May 24, 2024

U.S. Families Struggle as SNAP Benefits Fail to Cover Rising Food Costs

A recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has highlighted a pressing issue facing low-income families in the United States: government food benefits are falling short of meeting their needs amidst high food costs due to persistent inflation. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is designed to help these families, did not cover the cost of a modestly priced meal in 98 percent of U.S. counties last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for adjusting SNAP benefits each fiscal year based on economic inflation, yet the 2023 adjustments have had "little effect on the generosity of SNAP benefits," the report from May 20 stated. The average maximum SNAP benefit of $2.84 per meal was insufficient when compared to the modest meal cost of $3.37, leaving a gap of 53 cents or 19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023. For the first three quarters, SNAP benefits fell short by an average of $58.59 per month.

Urban areas experienced a larger discrepancy between meal costs and SNAP benefits than rural regions. The counties with the most significant gaps included New York County, NY; Leelanau County, MI; Teton County, ID; and Dukes and Nantucket Counties, MA, where the gap hovered around 70 percent for the entirety of 2023. The report emphasizes that any further cuts to SNAP funding could further hinder access to healthy and nutritious food for beneficiaries.

The backdrop of this issue is the broader economic climate marked by inflation, which has significantly increased the cost of everyday commodities. Since the Biden administration took office, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has surged by over 19 percent. This has led to such high grocery costs that many families have resorted to accruing debt to manage their expenses. A May 15 analysis by the Urban Institute found that over 60 percent of U.S. adults used credit cards for groceries in 2023, with 20 percent unable to pay the full balance and 7.1 percent unable to meet minimum payments.

In response to inflation, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent from almost zero in early 2022, exerting additional pressure on American households. Despite hints from the Fed about a possible reduction in interest rates, no concrete plan or timeline has been announced. Recent Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes indicate concerns over "sticky inflation," which might delay any rate cuts.

Consumer inflation expectations remain elevated, as shown by a University of Michigan survey and a May 2 Gallup poll which revealed that 41 percent of Americans consider the high cost of living as the most significant problem facing their families in 2024.

In his May 21 statement, President Biden declared that fighting inflation and lowering costs is his "top economic priority," claiming that inflation has decreased, but prices remain too high. On the other side, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the administration's management of inflation, stating that the average U.S. household now spends an additional $1,074 each month compared to when President Biden took office.

As it stands, SNAP benefits are not keeping pace with the cost of living, and the current state of inflation continues to challenge low-income American families.

RWJF Report

The Epoch Times Article


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