A pandemic-related boost in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be cut in every state on March 1, meaning millions of Americans are faced with figuring out new ways to put food on the table.
For Natalie Sharp, a 35-year-old part-time Pilates instructor, and her partner, that means stocking up on nonperishable food items like dry beans, pasta and canned tomatoes as well as visiting food pantries near their home in Pittsfield, Mass.
“We have access to local food pantries and aren’t afraid or ashamed to use them — but getting over the hump of us both being largely unemployed during COVID will be tougher without the extra $95,” Sharp said.
While a slashed food budget will be a burden for Sharp, out of the country’s 42 million SNAP recipients, she considers herself to be one of the lucky ones. She is partnered, has stable housing and has no children to support.
Navigating a post-COVID America on pre-COVID-level SNAP benefits might be more of a struggle for others, like the elderly and the chronically ill. Especially now that inflation has caused food prices to balloon by nearly 10 percent since last year, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Anti-hunger advocates fear the newly reduced SNAP benefits will drive millions of people to a “hunger cliff” and deeper into poverty as they search for ways to pay for food.
The cut in SNAP funds will also have harsh economic consequences, advocates warn. Every $1 in SNAP benefits distributed during an economic downturn generate between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington D.C.-based anti-hunger nonprofit.
Congress passed a bill in 2020 that temporarily boosted SNAP benefits to help low-income people manage the hardships of the pandemic. As a result, every SNAP household received at least an extra $95 in benefits.
Now, the average SNAP household will lose $90 in benefits by March and be reduced to a “meager” $6 per day per person, according to a spokesperson from the USDA.
“It’s just not enough,” Ellen Vollinger, the SNAP director at FRAC.
Advocates predict that many Americans will flood food banks and pantries in order to make up for their lost SNAP funds.
This has been the case for many soup kitchens, food pantries and other charities in the 18 states that stopped distributing pandemic-related SNAP benefits before March.
Ginny Ramsey, co-founder and director of Catholic Action Center, told The Hill more people have turned to the Lexington, Ky., charity for food since the state stopped distributing pandemic-related SNAP benefits in May 2022.
The need has been so great that the charity is even considering starting a mobile food delivery service to help low-income residents who can’t make it to food banks.
“Increased rents, increased groceries and a deduction in their food stamps… How are they going to make it?” Ramsey said.
But while food banks, pantries, charities and other nonprofits provide enormous help to those struggling to afford food, advocates stress they are not a replacement for SNAP.
“It’s $3 billion that we’re estimating will be lost nationally for 42 million people who rely on SNAP. And that’s not something that the collective food banks across the US can cover,” said Zac Hall, senior vice president of programs at Food Bank for New York City.
As a result, many people are going to have to choose between buying food and paying for other necessities.
“Folks may make some hard choices around seeking health care or paying their heat or light bills or rent or taking on more debt,” Hall added.