Rockville, MD—Does a flat nationwide amount for food assistance enable families in different areas within the 48 connected states to buy healthy meals? That’s what an Abt Associates-led team will study with a new U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) contract.
Families that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, receive funds they can use to buy eligible foods. FNS uses the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) to set the amount of SNAP aid qualifying families can receive. Based on national average food prices, the TFP covers the cost of a market basket of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four. The benefit amount is the same for all states except Alaska and Hawaii.
Until recently, the TFP changed only slightly each year to account for inflation. The 2018 Farm Bill required re-evaluation of the TFP for the first time based on current dietary guidance, consumption patterns, food nutrition data, and food prices. That resulted in a 21 percent increase in the maximum SNAP benefit value in 2021. The FNS will reevaluate the benefit every five years.
The Abt-led study, “Ground Truthing” the Market Basket Used in Developing the Thrifty Food Plan, will take a closer look at the current TFP and how well it is working for families in real-world settings. The study will examine the feasibility of buying food for the cost of the TFP to prepare meals that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, in different locations across the U.S.
The 2.5 year, $1.7 million project will analyze the availability and affordability of foods in the TFP market basket. Results from this study will assess how well the current market basket and TFP amounts work given the time and funds families actually spend to support nutritious diets that meet their needs.
“This study will help the USDA Food and Nutrition Service determine if it’s necessary to make adjustments based on the rigorous, in-depth data collected with this effort,” said René Nutter, client account lead for USDA.
The work includes hiring and training a team of registered dietitian nutritionists to develop menus and shopping lists, visiting stores at various locations across the U.S., and collecting and analyzing food quantity, availability, nutrition, and price data.
Abt’s partners are Tufts University and Davis Laine, LLC.
About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is a global consulting and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation—from creating scalable digital solutions and combatting infectious disease, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact. https://www.abtassociates.com