with zero net income residing in high-cost locales with limited food access are unable to purchase foods within the cost and food choice assumptions of the TFP. The costs of foods that are value-added and have some builtin preparation time are not accounted for in the maximum benefit. The committee found compelling evidence on geographic price differences and time costs of food. Less compelling, however, is the evidence on how to incorporate these factors into the SNAP benefit formula, particularly for the maximum benefit. Moreover, because 80 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed in supermarkets, the national prevalence of challenges similar to those identified in the community studies is unclear.
The committee concludes that specific areas of research could fill the evidence gap. These research areas include ways to incorporate time costs into the TFP; geographic price adjustments to the maximum benefit; and the effectiveness of alternative food plans, such as the Low-Cost Food Plan, in helping to achieve the program goals in areas where pricing variation negatively impacts the adequacy of SNAP allotments.
Benefit Reduction Rate
The committee’s review of the evidence led to the finding that the five-decades-old assumption that the average household spends 30 percent of its income on food purchases is inconsistent with current spending patterns of American families, regardless of income. Today the average family spends about 13 percent of its income on food, and the current SNAP benefit formula is not aligned with this change.
From the evidence reviewed, the committee concluded that a BRR more in line with current spending patterns would result in increased incentive for households to combine work with SNAP participation because a lower BRR would reduce the penalty due to working. Holding other factors constant, moreover, a lower BRR would be expected to increase the SNAP allotment for those with positive net income, thereby enhancing the opportunity of these households to achieve improved food security and access to a healthy diet.
Calculation of Net Income
Evidence reviewed by the committee suggests that a substantial proportion of SNAP households face very high housing costs and that the cap on the excess shelter deduction is binding for nearly 30 percent of these households. Evidence is limited, however, on the extent to which the earned income deduction has an impact on the adequacy of SNAP allotments. As noted, the TFP does not incorporate the time costs of food preparation, and this is a concern in particular for households headed by a working single