Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Variation in Food Prices and SNAP Adequacy for Purchasing the Thrifty Food Plan

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Brickell North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Garret Christensen, Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences and Erin Todd Bronchetti, Swarthmore College
Whether Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are adequate to provide food security for eligible households is an important policy question.  While the nominal value of SNAP benefits is fixed across states (except for Hawaii and Alaska), variation in food prices across geographic areas is dramatic, as is evidenced in both the Quarterly Food at Home Price Database (QFAHPD) and the new National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data.

Our research provides new evidence on geographic variation in the adequacy of SNAP benefits, estimating the distribution of the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) for households across the U.S. and calculating the percentage of SNAP recipients and SNAP-eligible households for whom the SNAP benefit level is sufficient to purchase the TFP.  Using the cost of the TFP calculated for each store in the FoodAPS data and the prices of specific food categories, we calculate the cost of the TFP for each respondent in the study using several methods of potential nearby store selection.  For each respondent in the sample, we calculate the potential SNAP benefit to which the household is entitled, using information on household income, expenses, family size and composition. Lastly, we compute the outcome of interest: the fraction of SNAP-recipient and SNAP-eligible respondents for whom SNAP benefits, plus 30% of income, are adequate to purchase the TFP.  By providing a better understanding of variation in the relative generosity of SNAP benefits for potential recipients, our findings may inform policy makers and future research regarding the effect of SNAP benefits on health outcomes.