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FRAC: Thrifty Food Plan not adequate for SNAP

While Congress is considering cutting food stamps, the Food Research & Action Center said the Agriculture Department’s Thrifty Food Plan, which forms the basis for food stamp allotments, is not adequate to provide a quality diet.

Either Congress or the Agriculture Department should change the basis for allotments, FRAC said in a brief released Friday.

Changing the basis to USDA’s more generous Low-Cost Food Plan or revising the Thrifty Food Plan would mean increasing allotments to food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Jim Weill

“The research shows that SNAP benefit levels need to be improved, not cut as some in Congress are proposing,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “SNAP is a great program but its gains are limited by the allotment shortfall. Cuts will cause more hunger, more poverty, and more ill health.”

According to the latest figures for a family of four from October 2012, the average monthly costs of the food plans are $627 for the Thrifty Food Plan, $822 for the Low-Cost Food Plan, $1,024 for the Moderate-Cost Food Plan, and $1,243 for the Liberal Food Plan.

FRAC said that the Thrifty Food Plan has a narrower range of expected food to be consumed than the government is recommending in other programs. Fruits in the baskets are comprised mostly of apples, bananas, oranges/orange juice, and watermelon; the primary vegetables include potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and dark leafy greens; and the main fish are canned tuna and canned salmon.”

”The lack of variety also is inconsistent with other federal initiatives and efforts to change behavior,” FRAC said “Children are encouraged in one USDA program to ask for variety in fruits and vegetables, for which USDA does not provide adequate resources in another program.”

The TFP also assumes that food is easily available and that meals will be cooked from scratch.

“The TFP frequently is criticized for requiring an unrealistic amount of time for food preparation (often from scratch), including the time necessary to shop (often in multiple places) for food at the right price, compare prices, prepare food, and clean up after a meal,” FRAC said.

To make SNAP adequate for the families it serves, FRC said, Congress could replace the TFP as the basis for SNAP with something more adequate, such as the Low-Cost Food Plan.

Alternatively, the report said, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could use his authority to allow TFP to be studied, redefined, and rebudgeted as an adequate plan with a higher SNAP allotment amount to purchase it and to analyze how much time it takes to prepare the food.

The paper was prepared by Heather Hartline-Grafton, the FRAC senior nutrition policy analyst, and Weill.