News out of Washington that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is a game changer according to a Virginia Tech expert who specializes in food and health economics.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) forms a critical foundation for health and well-being, improving nutrition and food security for millions of Americans.  Still, roughly half of all households receiving SNAP benefits are food insecure.   

Virginia Tech’s George Davis says the most recent data for calculating the cost of nutritious diet, the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), was based on data from two decades ago and some other data in the benefit formula came from the 1950s.

“As with any product in our economy, the cost of a nutritious diet changes over time and is higher now than it was based on this old data.  So the practical significance is given the goal of the SNAP is to help qualifying families reach the cost of a nutritious diet, this change puts that goal now within reach.”

“For many low income families this will mean they will now have adequate financial resources to put a healthy meal on the table for their families,” said Davis.  “While this is a great start there is still a significant ways to go to reach the cost of a nutritious diet for many families.  Thus for many families this increase will still be inadequate, but it certainly gets everyone closer to that cost target.”

“The Thrifty Food Plan is USDA’s estimate of the cost of a nutritious diet.  That is what is being updated.  While that certainly in turn affects the benefit amount a household gets, it should NOT be interpreted as some subjective ideological policy adjustment, though political casuistry will certainly frame it that way.  This is simply about using a more accurate, up-to-date estimate of the cost of a nutritious diet.”


George Davis is a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His research into the SNAP program examines the true costs associated with consuming a nutritious diet. Along with other colleagues, he has provided analysis for the Food Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and have received national recognition among food and health economists for their research.

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