NEWS

Rising Grocery Costs May Pressure SNAP Participants to Cut Back on Fresh Produce

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Key Takeaways

  • Inflation makes food budgeting even harder for SNAP participants who already struggled to afford fresh, nutritious foods.
  • Programs like SNAP-Ed offer nutrition education and help participants make healthy eating choices with a limited budget.
  • Pandemic relief for SNAP participants is set to expire in many states and it will place further financial pressure for people who are food insecure.

Inflation reached a 40-year high in the United States with noticeably higher prices in grocery stores.

The Consumer Price Index for fruits and vegetable was 2.3% higher in February, the largest monthly increase since March 2010. Prices in almost every grocery aisle, from dairy to seafood, have kept climbing because of higher costs in labor, freight, and ingredients.

Inflation makes food budgeting even harder for many of the 42 million Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Glenn Alvin Washington, Sr., a 91-year-old SNAP recipient living in Washington, D.C, told Verywell that he had to cut back on fresh fruit in his smoothies because of increasing food costs. “They’ve doubled the price,” he said. “I’ve had to put the strawberries and blueberries back.”

What Is SNAP?

SNAP, also known as “food stamps,” is a federally-funded food assistance program that supports low-income Americans. Participants must meet certain eligibility requirements in their state to receive benefits on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Benefits can be used on most grocery items like produce, meat, fish, and dairy. However, these benefits are not accepted for hot food items and non-food items like personal hygiene products.

With most pandemic relief for SNAP recipients coming to an end in the coming months, some will see their benefits drop by at least $95 per month or more, according to the USDA.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the program is intended to help families purchase healthy food and move toward “self-sufficiency,” studies show this isn’t always possible for SNAP participants.

A 2021 USDA report showed that 88% of SNAP participants reported facing barriers to healthy eating, and 61% cited “affordability” as the main barrier to achieving a healthy diet. And a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an association between SNAP participation and higher consumption of ultra-processed foods.

However, other research suggested that SNAP may actually improve “current and long-term health outcomes” for participants.

How Does SNAP Work?

Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA, an associate professor in the department of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University, told Verywell that states have some level of influence in determining how much SNAP recipients get even though it is a federally-funded program.

While SNAP eligibility requirements vary state-by-state, they are based on income level, household members, and meeting work requirements. Undocumented non-citizens are not eligible in any state or territory. Once an applicant qualifies, they are only certified for a certain period of time and must continue to recertify to keep receiving benefits.

In general, SNAP benefits are calculated assuming that participants will use 30% of their own income to pay for groceries.

“SNAP covers about $1.40 per meal per day,” Haynes-Maslow said, adding that this is only enough to “supplement” nutrition.

And SNAP participants like Washington are starting to feel even more financial pressure from the rising grocery prices.

How Can SNAP Improve Nutrition Quality for Participants?

In the 1980s, SNAP introduced a nutrition education component as a way to encourage healthy eating among participants. These SNAP-Ed programs are now offered by local universities and non-profits in every state and U.S. territory.

Haynes-Maslow, who works as the principal investigator for the SNAP-Ed program Steps to Health at NCSU, said most of these programs started by only offering direct education. Now, they are evolving to help break down other barriers SNAP participants face.

“If they don’t have access to [healthy] food or they can’t afford that food or if it’s not culturally appropriate for their family, it doesn’t really matter if they have the knowledge. It really matters if they have the access to it,” she said.

Steps to Health coordinates with local grocery stores to see what foods are most popular with different communities. From there, her team creates affordable, nutritious recipes using accessible ingredients. Haynes-Maslow emphasized the importance of making sure these recipes are culturally-appropriate and enjoyable for the SNAP-Ed participants.

“Any dollar that they spend on food, they don’t want to throw that food away,” she said. “If they are trying out a new recipe, they really want to make sure that their family is going to eat it because they can’t afford to throw it away in the trash.”

Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Watching grocery prices increase while extra pandemic benefits start to disappear can take a toll on SNAP participants’ mental health.

Many SNAP participants also exhaust their benefits before the end of a month. Studies have found that food insecurity is associated with serious stress and anxiety in low-income adults.

Additionally, some SNAP-eligible individuals must grapple with the decision to even apply for benefits.

“Only about 80% of individuals that are eligible for SNAP actually apply for it. There is a huge stigma of relying on the government to help out yourself or your family,” Haynes-Maslow said. “I’ve had seniors tell me specifically that they would rather starve than show up to the Department of Social Services and apply for food stamps or SNAP because that’s not how they were raised.”

Eligible individuals who do decide to participate may also find the application process frustrating. Washington worked with an agent from DC Hunger Solutions to make applying and recertifying more manageable, but it wasn’t easy.

“No senior citizen, or no person, should have to go through this,” he said.

Haynes-Maslow said that a lot of SNAP participants have told her they would love to provide healthy, fresh meals for their families, but it comes down to a lack of resources.

“It really is a mental game of looking at what they can afford, what they have time for, and what they can provide their family,” she said.

What This Means For You

If you need help buying food, visit the SNAP State Directory to find eligibility information in your state. This directory provides the contact information for local SNAP offices in each state. You can call your state’s hotline for additional information.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Feeding America. SNAP-eligible households.

  2. Benefits.gov. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. SNAP and the thrifty food plan.

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Barriers that constrain the adequacy of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allotments.

  6. Leung CW, Fulay AP, Parnarouskis L, Martinez-Steele E, Gearhardt AN, Wolfson JA. Food insecurity and ultra-processed food consumption: the modifying role of participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)Am J Clin Nutr. Published online February 24, 2022. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac049

  7. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP is linked with improved nutritional outcomes and lower health care costs.

  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture. SNAP eligibility.

  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture. A short history of SNAP.