New federal figures underscore high price for food in the islands

Published: Sep. 7, 2016 at 4:55 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 7, 2016 at 5:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A "thrifty food plan" in Hawaii for a family of four costs $1,161 a month, some $520 more than what the same food plan would cost on the mainland on average, according to newly-released calculations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The food cost figures are used to help calculate how much low-income families are allotted in food stamps. (The average monthly food stamp benefit per person in Hawaii was $227 in June.)

But they also help shed light on the high cost of living in the islands, and how consumer prices for groceries are rising.

The USDA figures show that a "thrifty food plan" for two adults and two children cost $268 a week in Hawaii during the first half of 2016.

The cost for the food plan has increased by about $34 a week over the last five years, the USDA figures show.

That means a family of four on a "thrifty" plan is spending about $1,768 more per year on food than they were in 2011.

Family of 4 (monthly)
HAWAII $1,161.40
ALASKA $765.30
MAINLAND (Average) $639.60
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

The new figures come as the USDA seeks to toughen up rules for where food stamp benefits are spent.

The federal government is proposing to require that food stamp grocers carry a wide variety of healthy choices. Critics of the plan say it would hurt small neighborhood grocers and their low-income customers.

In July, some 143,000 Hawaii residents participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps. That's down about 6 percent from the same month last year.

Hawaii's thrifty food plan is even pricier than Alaska's, where a family of four would spend $176.60 a week.

On the mainland, the same food plan for a couple and two children would cost $147.60 weekly.

The thrifty food plan is based on dietary guidelines, and represents a "nutritious, minimal-cost" diet, the USDA says.

According to the USDA figures, the monthly cost of a "thrifty food plan" for a single adult woman in Hawaii is $297.80. The monthly cost for a single adult man: $329.50.

On the mainland, meanwhile, an adult woman would spend $163 for the same food plan. A man would spend $185.

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