The Biden administration is quietly working to increase long-term food aid for millions of households beyond the temporary expanded benefits set to expire at the end of September. Those expanded benefits went into effect as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
The administration hopes to achieve this using an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture instrument called the market basket. A market basket is defined as a group of products chosen to track the performance of a market segment and determines food stamps benefits. It has not been increased in 60 years, other than for inflation.
“This is really meaningful,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard University economist, told a news outlet. “It’s one of the bigger things government can do for poverty without Congress.”
Anti-hunger advocates have fought for years to have the market basket value reassessed. Right now, a family of four is given a food budget of just $22 a day. Advocates argue that this value is based on outdated information, inadequate, and unrealistic. For example, the market basket assumes a family eats over five pounds of beans a week and spends roughly two hours a day preparing meals from scratch. In reality, Americans are averaging a half-hour on food prep.
On average, more than a quarter of SNAP households exhaust their benefits in the first week they are issued; meanwhile, they are expected to live off those benefits for an entire month.
Stacy Dean, a senior USDA official leading the review on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, couldn’t give the outlet a timeframe for finishing the study. She said it would “ideally” be completed by summer. The updated market basket could then be used to set benefits beginning October 1, when they are annually adjusted for inflation.