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CHICAGO (WLS) — Food stamp recipients in Illinois may not have enough money to adequately feed their families, according to a report from the research group Urban Institute.

The study revealed a gap between what Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients receive each month and the cost of an average meal. Consumer advocates argue that rising food prices justify an increase in the federal SNAP program that would benefit not only food stamp recipients but the entire country.

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“I only get welfare, and that's not much money. Without food aid, I wouldn't be able to eat,” said June Campbell.

Campbell is one of nearly 42 million Americans who rely on SNAP, but said she has had a hard time getting by on her food stamps lately.

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A study by the nonpartisan research group Urban Institute found that SNAP benefits are insufficient. Their data shows that the average maximum SNAP benefit amount in 2023 was $2.84 per meal, which is $0.53 less than the average cost of an inexpensive meal of $3.37.

Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said the extra money families have to spend out of pocket per meal quickly adds up for them.

“This tells us that while the SNAP program is very effective at reducing food insecurity, it is actually underfunded and does not provide people with enough resources to actually put food on the table,” she said.

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Waxman said that four in 10 households in the U.S. use SNAP as their only way to purchase food and that the family suffers when those benefits expire.

“That means they have to develop coping strategies. So they buy cheaper, less nutritious but higher calorie alternatives to make ends meet. They have to rely on food donations,” she said. “I think what's particularly concerning for us is that we know that food insecurity is associated with a higher risk of a number of health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated the Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost of a healthy diet and is used to determine the amount of SNAP benefits. It was the first permanent update to the Thrifty Food Plan in 45 years.

“It actually increased the value of SNAP benefits by about 21%. But the statistics we just discussed show that we're still not where we wanted to be,” Waxman explained.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the SNAP program, told the I-Team that significant steps have been taken to increase benefits. It said, “SNAP is the most powerful and far-reaching tool available to ensure that low-income people can purchase healthy food. USDA's core food assistance programs are designed to respond to changing economic conditions, including rising food prices, and to mitigate the impact of inflation on American families.”

SNAP recipients also received a temporary increase in their benefits due to COVID-19.

“Food insecurity dropped dramatically during that time, even though many people were temporarily unemployed or perhaps facing cost pressures due to illness, among other things,” Waxman said. “So we saw that increasing SNAP benefits can really make a big difference. Unfortunately, that expired at the end of the pandemic. We understand that it was a temporary benefit, but we learned from it.”

Campbell hopes lawmakers and the federal government will work to provide more SNAP assistance as she struggles to make a living.

“Come here, I just spent $150. I'm only one person. When my husband was alive, $150 would have fed us for a month. But not anymore,” she said.

The Urban Institute said SNAP benefits are an issue everyone in our country should get behind because without nutritious meals, chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure rise, which in turn leads to higher health care costs for everyone.

Illinois Congressman Jonathan Jackson, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said he is actively committed to expanding SNAP through a bipartisan farm bill. The current farm bill expires in September.

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