Recommendation 1: In defining allotment adequacy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) should include consideration of the influence of specific individual, household, and environmental factors on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants’ purchasing power given the dollar value of their SNAP benefits. Specific individual, household, and environmental factors to consider in a definition of the adequacy of SNAP allotments are
• Time—USDA-FNS should recognize the cost–time trade-offs involved in procuring and preparing a nutritious diet. The dollar value of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), with its strong reliance on preparation of meals from basic ingredients, does not account for time constraints faced by most households at all income levels, particularly those with a single working head of household, which necessitate purchasing value-added or prepared foods with a higher cost. USDA-FNS should examine the impact of accounting for cost–time trade-offs, for example, by
—applying a time adjustment multiplier to the cost of the TFP or reviewing options for adjustments to the current cost of the plan, and
—adjusting the earned income deduction to reflect more accurately time pressures for participants who are working.
• Geographic price variation—USDA-FNS should recognize the substantial variation in food prices that exists across geographic regions of the contiguous United States and between rural and urban areas. USDA-FNS should examine possible approaches to accounting for this variation, such as through adjustments to the maximum benefit that take into account
—pricing or price adjustments for food in high-cost (including urban and rural areas) as well as low-cost regions;
—whether the shelter cap should be increased, particularly in high-cost regions; and
—alternatives to the TFP, such as the Low-Cost Food Plan.
• Access to food outlets—USDA-FNS should assess the impact of limited access to certain food outlets (e.g., supermarkets) that may affect the ability of some SNAP participants to purchase a variety of healthy foods at reasonable cost. Evaluation and assessment of access barriers should include the degree to which, and for whom, they constrain the SNAP allotment that would otherwise be adequate to meet the program goals.