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Food Policy


While the nominal value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is fixed across states (except for Hawaii and Alaska), variation in food prices across the U.S. is dramatic. We provide new evidence describing geographic variation in the purchasing power of SNAP benefits, measured by the extent to which SNAP-recipient households are able to afford the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food plan on which legislated SNAP benefit levels are based. For more than one-quarter of SNAP households, SNAP benefits are too low to cover the cost of the TFP at the primary stores where they report shopping. SNAP purchasing power increases somewhat as we assume households can travel farther to shop and increases much more with the assumed ability to identify and travel to the lowest-cost store in a given area. It is unlikely, however, that SNAP households are sufficiently informed and mobile to shop at the lowest-cost store in a large (e.g., 10 to 20-mile) geographic area. We demonstrate that aggregate dollar shortfalls for SNAP households who cannot afford the TFP could be completely eliminated by redistributing from households in low-cost areas to those in high-cost areas, e.g., by indexing SNAP benefits to local food prices.


This work is an accepted manuscript that is freely available courtesy of Elsevier.

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