BOX 2-1
The Thrifty Food Plan

The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is a model-based market basket of foods that represents a nutritious diet at minimal cost and serves as the basis for establishing the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit. TFP market baskets stipulate the type and quantity of foods for home consumption that correspond to a nutritious and low-cost dietary pattern at the level of the maximum SNAP benefit. Revisions in the last update, in 2006, reflected recent changes in dietary guidance, as well as new information on food composition, consumption patterns, and inflation-adjusted food price changes. It should be noted, however, that some nutrient goals, such as reducing sodium and increasing vitamin E and potassium intake for certain age groups, cannot be met without substantial changes to usual dietary patterns and/or changes in current food manufacturing processes.

“alleviate hunger and malnutrition” by “permit[ing] low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade.”1 Today this goal is accomplished through the issuance of monthly benefits in the form of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that can be used in retail food stores. The SNAP benefit is based on the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is intended to provide a minimal-cost, healthy diet based on household size (see Box 2-1) (Carlson et al., 2007a).

Households with very little or no income receive the full TFP amount. Other households receive the TFP amount minus 30 percent of their net income because the SNAP program assumes that each household with income can contribute 30 percent of that income to the purchase of food. To the extent that 30 percent of household income is insufficient to purchase an amount of food equal to the TFP market basket, the SNAP benefit is issued in an amount that, combined with 30 percent of household income, totals the TFP amount for that household size (FNS, 2012b). For example, a household of four people with net income of $1,000 per month is expected to spend $300 per month of its net income for food. Because it needs $612 to purchase the TFP market basket, SNAP issues the household $312 in benefits.2 Eligibility for benefits is based on a gross income limit of 130 percent of the federal poverty threshold for a given household size, and net income may not exceed 100 percent of that threshold (households


1Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, Public Law 110-246, Sec. 2, pp. 1-2.

2This example does not incorporate the temporary increase in SNAP benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).

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