Economics is USDA’s Helping Science

At USDA, economics is a helping science. Two recent contributions of USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) highlight how economic research help USDA form policies.

USDA recently announced changes to the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is used to calculate maximum USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The re-evaluation of the TFP was a data-driven, science-based analysis. ERS researchers closely collaborated with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service on research that led to the changes. This close collaboration on the re-evaluation, impacts millions of low-income Americans each day.

In addition to ERS’s research into the Thrifty Food Plan, ERS monitors food insecurity in U.S. households annually. This research informs federal response efforts. In 2020, the pandemic caused an economic slowdown that could have increased food insecurity. At the same time, the government responded with substantial investments including changes to nutrition assistance programs, unemployment benefits and stimulus payments.

In 2020, an estimated 10.5% of U.S. households (unchanged from 2019) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 3.9% with very low food security (not significantly different from 4.1% in 2019). While the report does not include analysis of factors that may have affected food insecurity in 2020, earlier research, including studies conducted by ERS, showed increases in nutrition assistance benefits and other assistance helped reduce food insecurity.