Will food stamps increase due to inflation?

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Even in a year where the prices of almost everything are skyrocketing, soaring food prices stand out. In June, the federal government’s take-home food index — that is, the food you buy at a grocery store or supermarket — jumped 12.2% from a year earlier, according to the latest Consumer Price Index figures.

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It was the biggest increase in 43 years and even topped the headline inflation rate of 9.1%, Supermarket News reported.

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This year’s spike in food prices is making a difficult environment even more difficult for Americans receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Although SNAP benefits are adjusted annually for inflation, the current year’s cost of living adjustment is based on 2021 prices — which were much lower than they are now.

SNAP is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture to help low-income Americans buy food. According to the USDA website, the agency adjusts maximum SNAP allowances, deductions, and income eligibility standards at the start of each fiscal year, which runs from October 1 through July 1. The changes are based on changes in the cost of living, or the amount of money needed to support a basic standard of living.

The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan calculates the cost of a basket of groceries for a family of four. TFP is an estimate by the USDA of the cost of providing nutritious, inexpensive meals to a household. Maximum allocations are calculated from this cost each June. This means the COLA for fiscal year 2023 will be based on June 2022 prices.

The calculation takes into account economies of scale, which means that households of one to three people receive slightly more per person than households of four. Households with more than four people receive even less per person.

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Income eligibility criteria are set by law, with gross monthly income limits set at 130% of the poverty line for household size. For USDA purposes, “gross income” means a household’s total non-excluded income before any deductions. Net monthly income ceilings are set at 100% of poverty. Net income means gross income less allowable deductions.

From 2013 to 2019, total annual SNAP benefit payments declined at an average rate of 6.5% per year, according to USA Facts.org. Benefits increased by 32% from 2019 to 2020, in part due to increases related to COVID-19 assistance. Inflation has increased payments over the past two fiscal years, but even higher payments have not been able to keep pace with rising consumer prices.

For fiscal year 2022, the maximum SNAP allowance for nearly all Americans ranges from $835 per month for a household of four to $1,504 per month for a household of eight, with $188 per month allocated for each additional member above eight. That compares to fiscal 2021 maximum allowances of $782 for a four-person household and $1,408 per month for an eight-person household, with $176 per month allocated for each additional member.

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Based on these numbers, the maximum for a four-person household is approximately 6.8% higher in fiscal year 2022 than it was in fiscal year 2021, which is far from enough to keep up with the current rate of food inflation.

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Maximum and minimum benefits are higher for residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Virgin Islands than for residents of the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who has previously held positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work has also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a BA in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting has earned him awards from the North Carolina Press Association, Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A North Carolina native who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story “Saint Christopher” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest short story competition. Two of her short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. Her first novel, Voodoo Hideaway, is published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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