SNAP benefits are increasing. How can we make the most of them?

October 20, 2021 -

One in eight of all people in the US receives food access assistance each month through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, but for decades, SNAP participants have struggled to afford the ingredients they need to eat healthy or even to have enough to eat toward the end of the month. Now, after a long-overdue evaluation of SNAP benefit levels, things are about to get a little easier: this month, SNAP participants will see a roughly 25% increase in their monthly benefits, a change that may reduce hunger and improve nutrition and overall health outcomes. 

Since 1975, SNAP benefit levels have been determined by what the USDA calls the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which estimates how much it costs for a person to purchase all the food they need to eat a healthy diet. These guidelines were last revised in 2006; for the past 15 years, SNAP benefits have averaged out to only $1.80 per meal per person. Since a typical healthy meal costs a lot more than $1.80, at least 75% of households use up their current SNAP benefits in the first half of the month. The guidelines were also based on some problematic assumptions: 

  • The TFP didn’t take into account the difference in food prices from one region to another;
  • It based costs for a family benefit on a family with children under 12, not larger and hungrier teenagers;  
  • It assumed SNAP participants would be able to take time-saving measures like soaking dried beans instead of buying more convenient canned beans, which is often impossible for busy working families. 

More than 90% of SNAP recipients live below the poverty level across the US, and Black and Brown people are more likely than White people to experience food insecurity. Closing the gap between what SNAP offers and what people need to eat healthy meals addresses hunger, but it’s also a step toward racial and economic justice. Chronic food insecurity is a barrier to overall health and thriving that has persisted in Black, Brown, and low-income communities for generations. It can also contribute to a wide range of other problems, like behavioral issues and academic struggles for kids, physical and mental health struggles, and greater risk of hospital admission. Giving SNAP participants the resources they need to eat healthy meals all month long can help build a foundation for health and opportunity in other areas of SNAP participants’ lives. 

Now that benefits are increasing, how can we be sure people who are food insecure in Richmond and Henrico are able to make the most of the program? Here are a few ways to get involved: 

 

Apply for SNAP, even if you aren’t sure you qualify.  

Virginia ranks 43 out of 50 states when it comes to SNAP participation—only 72% of eligible people participate. The process of applying for SNAP can be overwhelming, and before the increase it may have felt like the benefits weren’t worth the paperwork. Now that benefits are increasing, anyone who thinks they may be eligible to participate in SNAP should consider applying: 

  • Visit the CommonHelp website to fill out a SNAP application online, or call (833) 5CALLVA for assistance from a CommonHelp advisor. 
  • Richmond and Henrico Public Schools families can apply for SNAP with support from their Communities in Schools Liaison. Check the CIS website to find the liaison for your school, or call 804-358-1CIS (1247). 
  • Residents of public housing communities in Richmond or the Southwood apartment community can connect with Community Health Workers at RHHD’s Resource Center sites for support in applying for SNAP benefits.  


If you are a SNAP participant, shop at a Virginia Fresh Match store or farmers market. 

The Virginia Fresh Match program works with participating grocery stores and farmers' markets to double the amount of produce SNAP participants can buy at no additional cost. Some local vendors include the Market @ 25th, Birdhouse Farmers Market, On the Square Farmers Market, and Dorey Park Farmers Market. For a complete list, check out the Virginia Fresh Match website. 

 

If you’re not a SNAP participant, shop at VA Fresh Match stores and markets (and encourage your favorite store to participate!). 

The Virginia Fresh Match program works with participating grocery stores and farmers markets to double the amount of produce SNAP participants can buy at no additional cost. By shopping at Virginia Fresh Match stores and markets, you’re supporting businesses that make it easier for SNAP participants to eat affordable, healthy meals. If your favorite grocery store or market doesn’t participate, contact them and ask them to become a Virginia Fresh Match vendor, or reach out to Virginia Fresh Match and get involved in their outreach work. 

 

City Council and State Representatives can help extend Virginia Fresh Match. 

The Virginia Fresh Match program makes it easier for SNAP participants to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables they need to cook healthy meals, but the program won’t necessarily last forever. Virginia Fresh Match is funded through a USDA grant currently, but investments by state and local government could ensure the program will continue beyond the grant period. Encourage your City Councilperson or State Representative to explore continuing the Fresh Match after federal funding expires.

 

Now, after a long-overdue evaluation of SNAP benefit levels, things are about to get a little easier: this month, SNAP participants will see a roughly 25% increase in their monthly benefits, a change that may reduce hunger and improve nutrition and overall health outcomes.