Recommendation 2: In defining allotment adequacy, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) should also consider evaluating specific program characteristics that affect the allotment’s actual dollar value, as well as the extent to which the allotment is targeted to individual Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. Specific program characteristics to consider in a definition of allotment adequacy are
• Maximum benefit guarantee—USDA-FNS should evaluate the need to
—adjust the current timing scheme for the cost-of-living adjustment to the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) to reduce the 16-month lag in updates;
—update adjustments for economies of scale to reflect current data on the impact of family size on family food spending; and
—correct for misalignment in the assumptions of the TFP that serve as the basis for determining the maximum benefit guarantee to account for current lifestyle and meal patterns that include the purchase of food products that reduce the need for in-home preparation time.
• Benefit reduction rate—USDA-FNS should evaluate whether there is a need to adjust downward the current benefit reduction rate, which is currently set at 30 percent but has a lower effective rate, to reflect the current purchasing behaviors of U.S. households.
• Calculation of net income—USDA-FNS should evaluate whether there is a need to adjust the design of the net income calculation to better reflect the ability of SNAP participants to purchase food within the boundaries of their incomes. Particular attention should be given to the adequacy of the current earned income deduction; the cap on the excess shelter deduction; and the possibility of expanding the out-of-pocket medical deduction to nonelderly, nondisabled populations.
Monitoring Assessment of the Adequacy of SNAP Allotments
The committee’s findings suggest that an evidence-based definition of the adequacy of SNAP allotments requires ongoing monitoring of the ability of SNAP participants to use the allotments to achieve the program goals. To this end, it is important to know the proportion of SNAP participants that are more food secure and consuming healthier diets as a result of the program, and within what time frame. Understanding the impact of SNAP benefits on these outcomes would contribute to the broader knowledge base used to define the adequacy of SNAP allotments.