MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Most Americans receiving food assistance benefits can’t afford the cost of an average low-income meal, a new national study reported on the heels of the federal government’s proposal to limit the program.

The study from the Urban Institute reported that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP, fell short of affording an average meal in 99 percent of U.S. continental counties and the District of Columbia. The Urban Institute is a liberal-leaning think tank and research organization based in Washington, D.C.

More than 44 million Americans received SNAP benefits every month in 2016, according to the most recently available government data.

The study, published Thursday, follows the federal government’s proposal to reduce SNAP funding by about $213 billion, or 30 percent, over 10 years. President Trump also proposed replacing food stamps with a home delivery box similar to a “Blue Apron-style” meal kit.

The study calculated the maximum SNAP benefit per meal and compared it to the average low-income meal cost per person based on census data. The maximum SNAP benefit was $1.86. The average meal cost was 27 percent higher.

The 20 counties with the largest gap included high-cost urban areas like New York and San Francisco and smaller rural counties in Oregon and Michigan. California had the most counties in the top 10 percent.


SNAP is intended to supplement a family’s food budget. But the study reported that for 37 percent of SNAP households with no income, benefits are the only way to buy food.

The study also said the current SNAP benefit per meal meets the meal costs of less than 1 percent of all counties in the country: 18 of those counties are in Texas; three are in Indiana; and one is in Ohio, the report said.

Barry Spear, public information manager for Alabama’s Department of Human Resources, which administers SNAP, said that SNAP is meant to supplement but not meet all food needs, like the name suggests.

“It’s not the only source that they have to find food,” Spear said. “A lot of people think it’s supposed to take care of all their needs, and it’s not designed to do that.” He said individuals can join other federal programs like WIC, which gives aid to women and children, or go to food banks run by nonprofit organizations or churches.

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