Study: SNAP benefits don’t come close to covering the cost of a meal in Leelanau County

By: - July 28, 2021 1:12 pm

Sunrise on Lake Michigan, Leelanau County | Susan J. Demas

Leelanau County in northern Michigan has the largest gap nationwide between maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and the average cost of a meal, according to a recent study. 

Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based social and economic policy research nonprofit, found that in 2020, the average meal in Leelanau County, which is estimated to be about $6.16, was 68% more than the SNAP benefit. 

In Michigan, SNAP recipients receive about $1.97 per meal. 

In response to the pandemic, Congress approved a temporary 15% increase in maximum SNAP benefits in December 2020, but that is set to expire on Sept. 30.  

However, even with the 15% increase, the shortfall between SNAP benefits and the cost of a meal in Leelanau County is still about $3.90 per meal.

As of 2018, about 755 Michiganders living in Leelanau County received SNAP benefits. Statewide, about 1.2 million Michiganders receive SNAP benefits. 

Leelanau is unique in that it is a rural county, but the economy is largely supported by tourism throughout the year, as it lies on Lake Michigan and encompasses some of the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. 

Seven other counties in Michigan have gaps of over 20% between the SNAP benefits and the average meal cost, including Marquette, Charlevoix, Antrim, Gladwin, Clare, Oceana and Washtenaw counties. 

Only one county in the state, Ogemaw County in northern Michigan, has an average meal cost, which is estimated to be about $1.95, lower than the SNAP benefit. 

Michigan isn’t the only state where SNAP benefits don’t cover the cost of a meal in many counties. 

Urban Institute SNAP report table

In 2020, the maximum SNAP benefit did not cover the cost of a modestly priced meal in 96% of all U.S. counties, according to the study. Even with the 15% increase, approximately 41% of counties nationwide continue to experience a gap between the maximum SNAP benefit per meal and the cost of a modestly priced meal.

“Our findings show the maximum SNAP benefit still leaves a gap in covering the cost of food for many families with low-incomes,” said Elaine Waxman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “About four in 10 households receiving SNAP have zero net income – if SNAP does not cover the cost of a meal, people in such households will be at high risk of experiencing food insecurity. Additional consideration of the geographic variation in food prices when setting SNAP benefit levels is critical to the health and well-being of the most vulnerable communities.”

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that more than 1.25 million Michiganders who are eligible for SNAP  benefits will receive an additional monthly payment of $95 in July. That’s roughly 13% of the state’s population.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.