RICHMOND, Va. -- Tens of thousands of Virginia families who rely on SNAP benefits to pay for groceries will soon get greater access to a healthier diet.
That is the assessment of local grocery store workers and food insecurity experts after the USDA recalculated the “Thrifty Food Plan (TFP)” for the first time in more than a decade.
The amount SNAP users receive each month is calculated based on the TFP and the USDA’s reevaluation takes into account the modern costs to provide a nutritious, practical, and cost-effective diet. The alteration means the average increase for monthly SNAP benefits goes up 25 percent, or $36 per person, beginning October 1.
More information on the change can be found here.
Virginia officials said there are approximately 380,000 Virginia households who qualify for SNAP benefits, although some families will see increases and others decreases based on their living situation.
At the Market at 25th Street in Church Hill, managers said around 50 percent of their customers use EBT cards to pay for portions of their grocery bill at the beginning of the month. That number, they said, typically begins to slip as the month moves along and SNAP benefits run out.
“When they get that first influx, they come and buy everything they can for the month, and by the end of the month, it’s been a struggle for them to maintain meals,” said Jae Scott, the store manager. Scott expects to see more SNAP customers more often because of the TFP change.
“They are able to provide for their families a little bit better now throughout the course of the month from beginning to end,” he said, referring to enhanced SNAP benefits because of COVID-19.
Sarah Steely, director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, said the 2021 TFP change is on the second time it has been altered since 1975 and noted that prices and family dynamics of the “typical” American family have morphed dramatically in that time.
“It has made unrealistic assumptions about the cost of food and also about the structure of American families,” Steely said. “For decades, the thrifty food plan has grossly underestimated the cost of providing a family with basic healthy food.”
Research shows a healthy diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables provides a litany of benefits for children. Steely said the developmental and emotional well-being of tens of thousands of Virginia kids, whose family qualifies for SNAP, cannot be overlooked.
“It has impacts for kids in both the short and the long term, right. Access to nutritious meals and having a full belly has lifelong impacts,” she said. “Maybe access to higher-paying jobs, graduate from high school, and the opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty they may have been experiencing as a child.”
“This is a program that will work with other initiatives, like the work of community-based non-profits, like school meal programs, to ensure that families can knit those programs together and find a solution that works for them,” Steely said.
The Market at 25th Street has a program where SNAP customers get 50 percent off the price of fresh produce and said it's a tangible example of how purchasing behavior change when the grocery budget goes further.
Rhiannon Moss, the customer service director, sees that firsthand with repeat SNAP customers when they bring their carts to the register.
“Their purchases are having more and more fruits and vegetables every time they come,” Moss said. “You see your family making better choices, and they’re excited about it. It’s not like it’s being forced on them, they’re doing it themselves.”
The increased benefits take effect October 1. You can read more about the process here.