within it.”2 USDA opted for the latter approach, which it operationalized by rewriting the food plans to better account for nutritional guidance and to fit a four-person reference family that included two school-aged children and an adult male and female. The reference family benefit amount was adjusted for different family sizes using economies of scale (Box 5-1).

Based on 2010 household composition data, 30.7 percent of all SNAP participants were school-aged children, 15.9 percent were preschool children, 45.6 percent were nonelderly adults, and 7.9 percent were elderly adults. The SNAP reference family comprises a male and a female aged 19-50, one child aged 9-11, and one child aged 6-8. Using June 2011 data, females aged 19-50 require $156.70 per month in food expenditures, a female aged 12-13 requires $129.00, and a female aged 14-18 requires $157.20 (CNPP, 2011). In contrast, a male aged 19-50 requires $176.00 per month, a male aged 12-13 requires $158.60, and a male aged 14-18 requires $164.50. The current monthly individual food expenses for the reference family are shown in Table 5-1.

The reference family’s food expenditures come to $612.00 per month, and this amount is used to set the maximum benefit, which is then adjusted by the economies-of-scale multipliers to account for different family sizes. “Unusual” household composition will obviously cause variation from this formula. For example, a household of four nonelderly adult males would fall short of meeting the reference family criteria for a maximum-benefit four-person household (by $92 a month), whereas a household with one adult, two preschool-aged children, and one school-aged child would be eligible for the maximum benefit for the household size even though the benefit would exceed the household’s requirement by as much as $129.00 a month.

While it would be possible to issue benefits based on the age and sex of household members at a point in time, any change to the current law would require great care. Households likely to lose the most benefits would be those with a disproportionate number of small children and those with more elderly adults, because they require less food expenditure per month. Those most likely to benefit would be households with disproportionately more adolescents or nonelderly adults, particularly males. The committee was unable to estimate the cost fraction that would increase or decrease the allotment if the estimate were based on individual household composition rather than the reference family, because the data needed to do so were unavailable, and the time and resources required to produce such an estimate were beyond the scope of this study.


2Rodway v. United States Department of Agriculture, 514 F.2d 809, 168 (U.S. App. D.C. 387, 1975).

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