So why are we finding it relatively easy to stay within the Thrifty Food Plan, when by all accounts, people on Food Stamps are struggling badly to cope with rising food prices? My guess is that there are several things going on:I think nobody would find the Thrifty Food Plan to be a permissive food budget. Some would find it adequate, and some not even adequate.
- First, most people on Food Stamps are working, and thus receive less than the maximum monthly benefit. In theory, Food Stamps aren't supposed to pay for all their food -- they're supposed to use some of their cash income for food as well. But low-income families have many other demands on their income (if I remember correctly, about half are spending 50 percent or more of their income just on housing). Food is the easiest part of the budget to squeeze, particularly if you're willing to invest the time in going to food pantries.
- Second, we have a car, and so can travel to low-cost supermarkets and warehouse stores. And we can have enough cash to buy large quantities when they're on sale.
- Third, we're eating very little meat, and relatively little processed food. We often make a big batch of pancakes or waffles on the weekend, and reheat them for breakfast all week, which is a lot cheaper than breakfast cereal.
But here is the hard policy question -- hard even to ask without seeming heartless. If the Thrifty Food Plan is adequate for many, but not all, then should the maximum food stamp budget be raised?
The Thrifty Food Plan, and hence the program benefit, are already indexed for food price inflation (though the adjustment lags during a particularly inflationary year, such as the current one). What makes the question difficult is that the Food Stamp Program does two things: (a) it provides resources to low-income people, and (b) it insists that by law the program participant may not spend those resources on anything other than grocery food, even if the participant's own judgment is that she needs to spend only part of those resources on food.