TABLE 5-1 June 2011 Monthly Food Expenses by Sex and Age Group

Sex/Age Group

Monthly Food Expenditure Under the TFP ($)

Male, aged 19-50


Female, aged 19-50


Child, aged 9-11


Child, aged 6-8


NOTES: TFP = Thrifty Food Plan.

Geographic Considerations

The maximum SNAP benefit varies only by family size in the contiguous United States, but is adjusted upward in both Alaska and Hawaii, presumably because of higher food costs. The presumption, then, is that the variation in prices from the average used in constructing the TFP in the lower 48 states and the District of Columbia is not sufficient to warrant the additional complication of program administration entailed in making similar adjustments. These complications include identifying the appropriate data source and then determining how to apply it meaningfully to households that live on the border of one or another geographic area. The maximum benefit is adjusted each October based on the Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) for the 29 food categories in the TFP that have a corresponding CPI or set of CPIs for each age-sex group (Carlson et al., 2007). There has been a long-standing assumption that the variation in prices for these 29 categories is not significant across the contiguous states and the District of Columbia. The challenge in questioning this assumption is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not produce an official CPI for different areas of the country, or one for the TFP. The CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) spans 87 percent of the population (BLS, 1998), and from this set BLS releases a monthly CPI for the 3 largest metro areas, a bimonthly index for 11 more metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), and a semiannual index for 12 additional metro areas. However, these subnational price indices do not cover all MSAs or any nonmetro/rural areas. This historic lack of data on regional food prices led the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance to recommend that cost-of-living differences in the poverty threshold be adjusted only for differences in housing as captured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market Rents Index (NRC, 1995). Presently, the approach followed by the Census Bureau in its Supplemental Poverty Measure is to follow the recommendation of the Committee on Poverty Measurement of adjusting the poverty threshold only for differences in housing costs, but using differences

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