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How much is your meal?

Study: for SNAP recipients, their per-meal benefit falls short


The Urban Institute has a new report out analyzing the "low-income meal costs" in counties versus the maximum per-meal SNAP benefit. Its not-so-shocking conclusion is that in 99 percent of US counties, the per-meal benefit is less than the actual cost of a meal.

The maximum per-meal SNAP benefit is $1.86, but in Monroe County, the average "low-income meal" — that's the organization's phrasing, not mine — costs $2.32.  The Urban Institute calculated similar average costs in surrounding counties: $2.02 in Orleans County, $2.19 in Genesee County, $2.26 in Livingston County, $2.28 in Ontario County, and $2.21 in Wayne County.

But these averages got us wondering how it's even possible to spend that little on a meal; realistically, most people probably focus more on their weekly grocery bills than the cost of each meal they eat. One of our writers figures he spent about $4 a meal for a soup he made this week, which included meat. I went through and calculated the cost of a salad and sandwich I made the other night — neither included meat — and that was roughly $3. Both my coworker and I have cars and can easily get to grocery stores and farmers markets.

Urban Institute explains its methodology on the study's webpage. Basically, it uses the numbers from a Census Survey where people self-report their food spending, information from the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan, and price indexes from Feeding America's "Map the Meal Gap" report.

If you haven't done it in a while, try to figure out what the last meal you made cost. And then think about what you could make for $1.86 and where you'd have to go to get that food; it's an enlightening exercise that can really illustrate income-based food and nutritional disparities.