The beginning of the new federal fiscal year on October 1 brought welcome news to 45 million SNAP beneficiaries across the country and to more than 250,000 grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers authorized to redeem SNAP benefits. On October 1, 2021, average SNAP benefits increased by $35.24 per person, per month.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) action was based on modifications to the Thrifty Food Plan. The Thrifty Food Plan represents the cost of a nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet prepared at home for a family of four, which is defined in law as an adult male and female, ages 20-50, and two children, ages 6-8 and 9-11. This is the first time since 1975 that the purchasing power of the Thrifty Food Plan has increased.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress directed USDA to conduct a review of current food prices, what Americans typically eat, dietary guidance, and the nutrients in food items. The revised Thrifty Food Plan includes more fish and vegetables based, in large part, on recommendations in USDA and HHS’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
While the increase in SNAP benefits is a positive development for SNAP beneficiaries and retailers, wholesale reform of FNS’s SNAP retailer program is long overdue. FNS, which authorizes and regulates SNAP retailers, implements an inequitable SNAP retailer administrative system that has discriminatory impacts on SNAP retailers owned by minorities and immigrants. The agency also appears to have ceased using federal employees as undercover investigators; for more than a year, nearly all investigators are third-party contractors. OFW Law recently sent a letter to FNS’s Civil Rights Division requesting that it conduct a comprehensive investigation of the agency’s practices. While USDA Secretary Vilsack assured the Senate Agriculture Committee that addressing discrimination in USDA programs would be a centerpiece of his administration, nothing has yet been done to address these wrongs. While inaction would not have been surprising during the Trump administration, it will be truly disappointing if the current Democratic administration does little or nothing to address FNS’s continuing discriminatory actions and finally shut down the remaining vestiges of The Last Plantation.