Friday, January 21, 2005

Attempting the Thrifty Food Plan

The Half Changed World weblogger, a mother and self-described policy wonk, has been attempting to feed her family on the Food Stamp Program's monthly budget, which is based on the Thrifty Food Plan. Here is her original post, and most-recent update half-way through the month. Her experience is much like my family's when we tried this last year. My family just missed being able to meet the budget if you count restaurant food I bought at lunch when I had to eat out for work. Our grocery store bill came in around $50 under the monthly limit. Our conclusions were: 1) it is possible to eat healthy palatable meals on that budget, but 2) it takes time, concentration, and a high degree of price awareness to do so.

Incidentally, the Half Changed World author is trying for $434.40, while this year's maximum food stamp benefit for a family of four is $499, according to USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. An important policy question is whether this is the right amount. Some things to think about: working families sometimes must eat food from restaurants or cafeterias, which cannot be purchased with food stamps; many families get food support from several sources, including food stamps, school food programs, WIC, and food banks and food pantries; the food stamp benefit is not scaled according to the age of children, only according to family size, so the food stamp benefit computation treats a teenager the same as an infant who gets infant formula from WIC.

Half Changed World's exercise was prompted by this wide-ranging debate at Asymmetrical Information, which was in turn based on this article by Leslie Gevirtz at Reuters. Gevirtz had interviewed me about USDA's food security measurement methods, which are currently under review by an expert panel at the National Academies. The weblogger's reporting about her family's experience on this budget has generated interesting follow-up commentary by other online writers.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the link, and for sharing your experience doing the same thing. Halfway through, my main policy conclusion is that I'm more sympathetic than before to the people who complained that the move to EBT made it impossible to get non-restricted change back to spend on things that aren't valid food stamp expenses -- like laundry detergent, or cafeteria food.

And yes, it would be a lot harder to stay within the budget with a teenager who a) eats more and b) is more brand conscious.