In 2009, as part of the national stimulus package, SNAP benefits were increased by 13.6 percent, effective April 2009. Four-person families received a maximum benefit increase of $80 per month (presumably explaining in part the reduced TFP deficit found in 2011 in Philadelphia by Children’s HealthWatch). For a household of three, the maximum benefit increased from $463 to $526 per month. Future increases would be based on 2009, and therefore their impact would be reduced each year once inflation was taken into account (CBO, 2012). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 20093 (ARRA) also allowed states to suspend time limits for unemployed able-bodied adults through FY 2010, increased the minimum benefit from $14 to $16 per month, and increased administrative funding to states. Subsequent legislation set an expiration date of November 2013 for the 13.6 percent benefit adjustment.
USDA found that “the food security of low-income households (those with incomes in the eligible range for SNAP) improved from 2008 to 2009, and a substantial share of that improvement may be due to the increase in SNAP benefits implemented under ARRA” (Nord and Prell, 2011, p. iii). During that period, the SNAP benefit received by the typical low-income household increased by about 5.4 percent (Nord and Prell, 2011). Food security did not increase, however, for households only a little above the SNAP eligibility level. In 2012, the benefit level for a four-person household remains at $668 per month, while the TFP for this category is set at $611.70, resulting in a $56 difference per month.
Regional differences in food prices discussed above, coupled with a number of food access challenges and reduced food insecurity attributed to the ARRA expansion, have led some stakeholders to call for permanent increases in the TFP or for the maximum benefit to be linked to another USDA food plan, such as the Low-Cost Food Plan (Children’s HealthWatch, 2012; FRAC, 2012). The counterargument for permanently adjusting the maximum benefit or linking it to the Low-Cost Food Plan is that to make such a revision cost-neutral, participation would have to be restricted and/or some other aspect of the net income formula (discussed below) would have to be altered to reduce the benefits of those not at the maximum so as to hold total spending in check. Cost neutrality, however, is a requirement linked to the TFP. Moving from the TFP to the Low-Cost Food Plan would necessitate a higher cost that is not supported by the current statute. In the absence of cost neutrality, neither restriction of participation nor reduction of benefits would be necessary, but given that the Low-Cost Food Plan is
3American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Public Law 111-5, 111th Congress (February 17, 2009).