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Report questions effectiveness of SNAP

Breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables and dairy products such as milk, pictured above, along with meat, poultry and fish, are all eligible food products under SNAP guidelines.

The latest USDA numbers show that Iowa in 2010 ranked 8th in the nation for participation in SNAP, with 88% of eligible people participating.

But a new report from the National Academy of Sciences questions whether the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) adequately provides for healthy diets for the millions of American relying on it. According to the report, the SNAP program does not account for the barriers to inner-city shoppers in finding affordable and nutritious food.

The panel of independent scientists also said the benefits are lagging behind the ever-increasing cost of food. In fact, the report says there exists a 16-month lag between the assessment of food costs and the adjustment of SNAP benefit amounts to accommodate fluctuations. According to the report, that lag can significantly reduce the purchasing power of SNAP allotments because of the impact of inflation and other factors on food prices.

The report also suggests the program penalizes beneficiaries with jobs, bringing into question the formulas used to determine how much each family receives. USDA assumes families spend 30% of their incomes on food, but the report says most can only afford to spend 13% given rising healthcare and housing costs. As a result, when incomes rise, the report found that the government reduces benefits too sharply.

The National Academy of Sciences report was sought by USDA; according to a statement, the department will thoroughly review the analysis and recommendations in the report and use them to help set the agenda for future program research.