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Supplemental nutrition

For many Americans who live at or below the poverty threshold, access to healthy foods at a
reasonable price is a challenge that often places a strain on already limited resources and may
compel them to make food choices that are contrary to current nutritional guidance. To help
alleviate this problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers a number of
nutrition assistance programs designed to improve access to healthy foods for low-income
individuals and households. The largest of these programs is the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program, which today serves more
than 46 million Americans with a program cost in excess of $75 billion annually. The goals of
SNAP include raising the level of nutrition among low-income households and maintaining
adequate levels of nutrition by increasing the food purchasing power of low-income families.
Households receive the maximum SNAP benefit if the family has no net income to contribute
to food purchases; households with income combine the SNAP allotment with other household
resources. Currently there is debate about whether there are different ways to think about the
adequacy of the SNAP allotment. Factors such as time needed to purchase and prepare foods
from basic ingredients as described in the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), the basis for calculating the
SNAP allotment, knowledge and skills needed to plan and prepare healthy meals, the diversity of
cultural preferences, food access constraints, and regional/seasonal price fluctuations all may
have an impact on the adequacy of SNAP allotments for achieving the program goals. In addition
to these individual, household, and environmental factors, program characteristics—the way the
allotments are calculated (including the maximum benefit guarantee, the benefit reduction rate,
and the calculation of net income deductions)—are important to consider in defining adequate
allotments. The committee reviewed the evidence for the impact of these factors and
characteristics on the purchasing power of SNAP allotments and assessed their role in
contributing to the feasibility of defining allotment adequacy.
In response to questions about whether there are different ways to define the adequacy of
SNAP allotments consistent with the program goals of improving food security and access to a
healthy diet, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
to conduct a study to examine the feasibility of defining the adequacy of SNAP allotments,
 the feasibility of establishing an objective, evidence-based, science-driven definition of
the adequacy of SNAP allotments consistent with the program goals of improving food
security and access to a healthy diet, as well as other relevant dimensions of adequacy;

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