New Hampshire Legal Assistance

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Updated Thrifty Food Plan Increases SNAP Benefits

Posted Aug 30, 2021

The USDA announced a historic and long overdue update to the Thrifty Food Plan. The changes, designed to more accurately reflect the cost of a healthy diet for SNAP households, go into effect on October 1, 2021.

The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) used to set SNAP benefit levels has been adjusted only for inflation since the 1970s. This has left far too many families – particularly families of color – unable to afford a healthy diet. Updating the Thrifty Food Plan is part of a new, science-driven effort to better help families access a fully nutritious diet and live healthy lives.

Starting October 1, the average SNAP benefits for households will increase approximately 21 percent to $36 per person per month, or about $1.20 per day. This increase considers evolving dietary guidelines, changing food consumption patterns, and the constraints of time-strapped working families. Actual benefits received per household will continue to be determined by eligibility factors such as income and household size. Nevertheless, the overall increase in available SNAP benefits is seen as a win for New Hampshire families.

“The increase in SNAP benefits will allow more families in New Hampshire and the rest of the country to purchase more of the food and drinks they need,” said Ray Burke, co-director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance’s benefits program. “The old TFP assumed that all families had the time and capacity to make most of their meals from scratch. It did not take into consideration the number of single parent households and households with two working parents. Nowadays, parents need to put food on the table as quickly as possible.”

The previous TFP calculated that families spent 1-2 hours cooking each day. In reality, the typical working person spends less than an hour and more often less than 15 minutes on meal preparation.

The revised TFP allows more healthy foods that take less time to prepare, like peeled or pre-sliced vegetables and ready-to-cook cuts of lean meat. In another update, the new plan assumes that nearly all beans are purchased in canned form, unlike the previous version, which relied heavily on dried beans.

“Scientists now recommend a more well-rounded diet including whole grains, leafy green vegetables, lean proteins, and seafood,” Burke said. “The old Thrifty Food Plan left out many of those foods, assuming that people mostly consume beans and milk.”

Allowing more families access to a healthy diet has other benefits too, including improved educational achievement for children and stimuli for local economies.

“The US Department of Agriculture estimates that every dollar spent on SNAP benefits generates more than $1.50 in gross domestic product,” said NHLA executive director Sarah Mattson Dustin. “That’s because people spend SNAP dollars quickly on food at local stores. It can’t be used for anything else.”

Dawn McKinney, Policy Director at NHLA, urges SNAP participants to be aware that the increase in benefits will coincide with the end of some pandemic related increases. "As a result, most households will see an overall benefit rise of only about seven percent instead of 21 percent," she said. "However, with the cost of a meal in New Hampshire averaging $2.68, a net increase in benefits will help SNAP families purchase at least one good meal per day."

If you need help accessing SNAP benefits, contact New Hampshire Legal Assistance at nhla.org or call 1-800-562-3174. People may also reach out to 603 Legal Aid at nhlegalaid.org or call (603) 224-3333.