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SNAP benefits: Food stamps may not be enough to feed a family, according to Urban Institute report

CHICAGO (WLS) — People receiving food stamp benefits in Illinois may not be getting enough to adequately feed their family, a report from the Urban Institute research group said.

The study revealed a gap between what Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients receive every month and the cost of an average meal. Consumer advocates argue the rising cost of food prices justify a boost in the federal SNAP program, which will benefit not just those who receive food stamps but our entire country.

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“All I get is Social Security, which is not a lot of money. Without the food benefits, I wouldn’t be able to eat,” said June Campbell.

Campbell is among nearly 42 million Americans who rely on SNAP, but she said lately it’s been hard to make her food stamps stretch.

RELATED: Chicago officials warn of SNAP changes starting in March

A study conducted by the nonpartisan research group Urban Institute found that SNAP benefits are falling short. Their data shows the average maximum SNAP benefit in 2023 was $2.84 per meal, which is $0.53 less than the average cost of a modestly priced meal, $3.37.

Elaine Waxman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said the extra money per meal out of pocket quickly adds up for families.

“What that tells us is that the SNAP program, while we know is very effective in reducing food insecurity, is really under-resourced and is not providing enough resources for people to really put food on the table,” she said.

READ MORE: Illinois SNAP benefit fraudsters draining Link cards of food funds

Waxman said four in 10 households in the U.S. use SNAP as their only resource for purchasing food, and when those benefits run out, the family suffers.

“What that means then they have to develop coping strategies. So, they buy cheaper less-nutritious-but-more-calories options to make things meet. They have to turn to charitable food,” she said. “I think the thing that is particular worrisome for us is that we know that food insecurity is associated with higher risk of a number of health conditions like diabetes, like hypertension.”

IN 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made updates to the “Thrifty Food Plan,” which estimates the cost of a healthy diet and is used to determine SNAP benefit amounts. It was the first permanent update to the Thrifty Food Plan in 45 years.

“It actually increased the value of the SNAP benefit by about 21%. But, the statistic we just talked about shows that that’s still didn’t get us to where we needed to be,” Waxman explained.

The USDA, which oversees the SNAP program, told the I-Team significant steps have been taken to increase benefits, saying, “SNAP is the most powerful, far-reaching tool available to ensure people with low incomes can purchase healthy food. USDA’s major food assistance programs are designed to respond to changing economic conditions, including increases in food prices, and help alleviate the effects of inflation on American families.”

SNAP recipients also received a temporary boost in their benefits form COVID-19.

“Food insecurity dropped dramatically during that time, despite that fact that a lot of people were temporality out of work or facing other cost pressure maybe having been ill,” Waxman said. “So we saw that a boost in SNAP benefits can really make a big difference. Unfortunately, that expired at the end of the pandemic. We understand that it was a temporary benefit, but we did learn that lesson.”

Campbell hopes lawmakers and the federal government will push to provide more SNAP assistance as she struggles to put food on the table.

“You go in here, I just spend $150. I’m only one person. When my husband was alive, $150 would feed us for a month. But not now,” she said.

The Urban Institute said SNAP benefits are an issue everyone in our country should get behind, because without nutritional meals, the rate of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension increases, which results in higher healthcare costs for everyone.

Illinois Congressman Jonathan Jackson, who sits on the Agriculture Committee, said he is actively engaged in efforts to expand SNAP through a bipartisan farm bill. The current farm bill expires in September.

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