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New Report Shows SNAP Benefits Are Inadequate For Many Families

SNAP Eligibility is based principally on income and household size. Those who apply must be 150 percent below the federal poverty level, which stands at about $2,500 for a family of three.
SNAP Eligibility is based principally on income and household size. Those who apply must be 150 percent below the federal poverty level, which stands at about $2,500 for a family of three.

As President Donald Trump ponders a 30-percent cut to the nutrition program's budget, a new study finds the maximum SNAP benefit does not cover the cost of an average meal in all of New York's 62 counties.


The Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank, released a new paper showing SNAP, also known as food stamps, is the sole food source for 8.5 million American families. Lead researcher Elaine Waxman:   "We took a look at the maximum benefit available to households under the SNAP program. A little less than 4 in 10 households are eligible for the maximum benefit because they have what we call zero net income. They may actually have earnings but they also have deductions for expenses that essentially bring their income down to zero. For those families we would expect that the SNAP benefits should cover the cost of their food budget. But what in fact we find is that the SNAP benefit per meal falls short of covering the cost of the average low-income meal in 99 percent of counties in the continental United States and D.C. "

The study shows the average meal cost in New York state ranges from 3 percent more than the maximum SNAP benefit in Yates County to 113 percent more in Manhattan in New York County.   "In the Albany area, the average cost of a low-income meal is $2.74, and that's about 47 percent higher than the average SNAP benefit of $1.86. What's important to realize is that SNAP is not adjusted for cost of living anywhere in the continental United States, so you can get the same benefit in New York or in Missouri or in California. So it doesn't reflect geographic variation in food prices as well as obviously other cost pressures that families feel like housing."

  • The study was released along with an interactive map showing the average meal cost by county.

Some 41 million people across America are categorized "food insecure" and the problem equally affects urban and rural populations. Susan Zimet, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State, is not surprised by the study's findings.    "Now in New York state we have 2.5 million food insecure people, which includes a number of children, seniors, veterans, military families, working poor, disabled. It's very, very, very sad. In New York state, just to cover our meal gap, in other words, to make sure everybody got three meals a day, we would need actually an additional $1.4 billion in order to cover the cost of what SNAP provides in New York state."

Food insecurity was the top concern during a Thursday forum in Hopewell Junction, organized by Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. SNAP benefits could be reduced after the current farm bill expires in September.  The Democrat says he is "absolutely committed to keeping SNAP where it is."  "What's gonna happen is is we are gonna struggle with the committee to get a bill out of committee onto the floor of the House. Nothing is gonna pass the floor of the House because the Republicans are really really obsessed with cutting this program. Without some sort of cuts in the SNAP program in the house version of the bill. As was true last time, those will not survive in the Senate. You will see that reduced or eliminated in the Senate version because you're going to need to get nine Democrats on that bill in the Senate."

Waxman says any cut would undermine the ability of SNAP to do its job.   "Our analysis is looking at SNAP as it is, and the projected cuts for SNAP over the next two years would be about 30 percent, so we would be going backwards. SNAP actually does a great job. It's a government program that works. It reduces food insecurity, it allows people to participate in the mainstream economy. The SNAP dollars they spend help cover the wages of people who work in retail stores and growers and producers. So, we know a lot of folks who are on SNAP are still food insecure but one of the reasons that is is because the benefit is not really sufficient, particularly in higher cost areas like New York." 

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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