<1 for low-cost locations and >1 for high-cost locations. This implies that the maximum benefit could actually fall for many areas, which is not allowed under current law and arguably may not be efficient in terms of meeting the program goals of improving food security and access to a healthy diet, given the evidence that higher benefits improve these outcomes. This suggests an alternative of restricting Pit to ≥1, which means that for average or low-cost areas, benefits would be linked to the TFP as is current practice, but those living in high-cost areas would receive an upward adjustment. Presumably this approach would address some of the food benefit gap as identified by Children’s HealthWatch in Boston and Philadelphia (Breen et al., 2011), and likewise in similar high-cost locations. Conversely, this asymmetric adjustment would lead to increased program costs.
The challenge of implementing geographic cost-of-living adjustments is that at present, BLS does not produce a regional price index. As stated by BLS, the CPI for the four major census regions (Northeast, South, Midwest, West), along with that for the 27 major MSAs, “measures how much prices have changed over a specific period in that particular area; it does not show whether prices or living costs are higher or lower in that area relative to another. In general, the composition of the market basket and the relative prices of goods and services in the market basket during the expenditure base period vary substantially across areas” (BLS, 2011c, FAQ 14). Researchers at the Bureau of Economic Analysis are conducting ongoing research into the production of a regional price index (Aten et al., 2012), while those at the Census Bureau involved in poverty measurement are adjusting poverty thresholds only for differences in spending on housing (Renwick, 2011; Short, 2012). In the short term, adjusting the maximum benefit geographically for differences in cost of living (or even food) is likely to be infeasible until further progress is made on regional price indices.
Timing of Benefits
SNAP benefits are deposited onto an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card near the beginning of each month. USDA research shows that about 80 percent of benefits typically are used up within the first 14 days, and by the 21st day of the month, more than 91 percent has been spent (FNS, 2012a). Because families that run out of benefits usually do so at the end of the month, it has been suggested that benefits be issued semimonthly to level out spending. Benefits were in fact issued semimonthly at one time, but that was when there was a purchase requirement (see Chapter 2). Those who use food pantries and other private food assistance to supplement their SNAP benefits might be expected to change the timing of their usage to reflect a semimonthly cycle. Whether this would be advantageous to food providers