On Aug. 16, USDA released a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. As a result, the average SNAP benefit — excluding additional funds provided as part of pandemic relief — will increase for fiscal year 2022 beginning on Oct. 1, 2021.

As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill — and with the expressed support of President Biden’s Jan. 22 Executive Order — USDA conducted a data-driven review of the Thrifty Food Plan. The resulting cost adjustment is the first time the purchasing power of the plan has changed since it was first introduced in 1975, USDA said, reflecting notable shifts in the food marketplace and consumers’ circumstances over the past 45 years.

“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition — it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”

In its re-evaluation, USDA said it was driven by the latest available data on the four key factors identified in the 2018 Farm Bill: current food prices, what Americans typically eat, dietary guidance and the nutrients in food items. Additionally, the plan was calculated using updated purchasing data — collected from stores versus self-reported by households — to reflect the current price of foods in today’s marketplace. The revised Thrifty Food Plan also includes a modest increase in calories to reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), released the following statement on the update:

“The International Dairy Foods Association is pleased to see the important changes announced today by USDA to the Thrifty Food Plan, which will increase the average SNAP benefit by $36.24 per person, per month, or $1.19 per day, according to USDA. In their analysis of the program, USDA found that 88% of SNAP participants face challenges in accessing a healthy diet, and 61% of SNAP participants reported cost as a main barrier.

“Updating the Thrifty Food Plan should empower SNAP participants to access more of the nutrient-dense foods needed for healthier diets, especially among the food-insecure and economically vulnerable. That’s why IDFA and the dairy industry continue to encourage USDA and Congress to look at creative ways to enhance the SNAP program so that it better incentivizes purchases of healthy foods such as dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Not only is the SNAP program an economic driver for food producers and retailers — supporting GDP growth and job creation — it is essential to our nation’s nutrition security.

“Recently, the House and Senate moved closer to appropriating $3 million in fiscal year 22 for the SNAP Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive program, which incentivizes SNAP beneficiaries to purchase fluid milk, making it easier for families to get more of the nutrition benefits of milk. USDA is working with the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty to design pilot programs across the country to test different incentives to determine the best way to encourage additional SNAP dairy purchases. IDFA stands in full support of expanding the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive program, especially in light of today’s announcement by USDA.

“The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, like many versions before it, recommend increased intake of dairy products for all Americans because dairy products — like milk, yogurt and cheese — provide high-quality protein, including milk’s 13 essential nutrients. At present, 90% of the U.S. population, including school-age children, do not consume the recommended levels of dairy … meaning that they are missing out on dairy’s nutritional and health benefits. The changes announced today by USDA will ensure food insecure Americans have more resources to purchase healthy food. We look forward to working with USDA and Congress to ensure programs like SNAP, WIC, school meals and other federal nutrition programs invest in making healthy foods like dairy more accessible to those in need.”