The End of the Food Bank Emergency Allotment Boost: How Will Food Security and Social Security Benefits Survive the Great Recession?
About three-quarters of food banks reported that the ending of the emergency allotments has driven up demand, according to a Feeding America survey of members taken in January. Many food stamp recipients didn’t have a lot of notice in the states that already terminated the boost.
Thirty-two states plus D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still providing the boost; there, benefits will return to pre-pandemic levels in March. In South Carolina, benefits return to normal this month. Emergency allotments had already ended everywhere else.
“When social security or household income goes up, there may be a reduction in benefits,” the announcement said. “However, the households will still experience a net gain, as the decrease in SNAP benefits is less than the increase in Social Security benefits.”
States with more households closer to the edge of that benefit “cliff” will see the largest average loss of benefits. At least four states, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, will see average household benefit losses of more than $200 each month.
“This is a change that will increase hardship for many individuals and families, especially given the modest amount of regular SNAP benefits, which are only about $6 per person per day, on average,” says Dottie Rosenbaum, director of federal SNAP policy for the institute.
Food scarcity does not affect every family in the same way. Black households and families with children are more likely to experience food scarcity.
It is coming at a time when food banks are struggling to keep up with high inflation, which caused more people to turn to them and made it harder for them to provide supplies for those in need. Plus, food banks are seeing fewer donations, forcing them to use their funds to buy groceries.
When we look back at the Great Recession, we can see that there were noticeable increases in food insufficiency, but it was mitigated by the use of food stamps and other relief efforts.
There is no alternative to ending the program because it will increase food insufficiency and keep everyone at the maximum benefit level for a long time.
“There’s no way to end it without causing harm because starting it reduced harm,” Whitmore Schanzenbach said. “Fortunately, we have come out of this pandemic with a pretty strong economy, a very strong economy, so hopefully we’ll be able to absorb the increased hardship.”
“People are going to notice that it’s something they are going to notice,” said the director of federal SNAP policy at the center. It is $3 billion a month that will go to food that can’t be found anymore.
This is a leading food bank and pantry that is already stretched thin by increased demand because of the surge in grocery prices.
More than 42 million Americans received food stamps as of November, according to the latest federal data. Without the pandemic boost, the average food stamp benefit will come to about $6 per person per day in 2023, instead of about $9, according to the center.
Food stamp recipients in states that already terminated the program are feeling the pinch, said Stacy Taylor, head of policy and partnerships at Propel, a software company that provides an app to check SNAP benefit balances.
People who live in states that continued the emergency food supply report skipping meals, eating less, and visiting food banks at a higher rate than those in states that didn’t.
Since the $85 a month boost, Pam Ford has been able to buy more food for her sons who are 4 and 1 years old. She started to use her main monthly benefit to stock up on meat and fish once she heard it was over.
Stretching the Supply Chain: How the Cleveland Food Bank and Food Banks Will Be Helping Families with the 2021-23 Public Health Emergency
The Cleveland resident is working on ways to stretch her supplies, including Mexican dishes with beans and rice. She’s also planning to serve more breakfast meals for dinner.
The emergency allotments kept 4.2 million people out of poverty in 2021, lowering poverty by nearly 10% and child poverty by 14%, according to an Urban Institute study.
If the public health emergency ends on May 11 there could be additional challenges for food stamp recipients. The three-month time limit for certain adults without disabilities and without children who aren’t working will be suspended at that time, as will the expansion of eligibility to certain college students and additional flexibilities for states to manage their workload.
Ford signed up for a food pantry to prepare for the end of the boost. Anti-hunger groups nationwide are expecting many others to do the same.
“We are transitioning from a pandemic crisis to a hunger crisis,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer at Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries and meal programs.
“It was just something that happened suddenly and jarringly to families that are already struggling to afford the basic essentials of life, like rent and gasoline and health care and, of course, food,” Hall said.
In December, the Atlanta Community Food Bank saw a 40% increase in demand compared to a year ago. The CEO of the non profit said that the state ending the emergency supplies last summer likely resulted in the jump.
“If you’re someone who cannot meet your basic needs with your existing resources, every $10, $20 or $30 matters. It allows you to get a little bit more nutrition for your family,” Waide said.
Carlis Phares says with a reduced benefit she’ll have to rely on some basics from the food bank. She thinks a lot of people are going to the food banks.
Phares says that she doesn’t get an increase in her Social Security payments because they don’t keep up with the cost of living. She was able to save her Social Security money and eat well due to the SNAP boost. Now she’ll have to do more with less.
“I’m going to figure out how to make it stretch,” Phares says. One strategy to save money is to cut back on meat and fresh produce and stock up on cheaper foods, such as crackers, bread and rice, she says. But Phares knows this isn’t good for her.
The less healthy stuff is the cheapest. “I learned that, because I gained a lot of weight eating on the cheaper stuff — the starches, the crackers. And now that I’ve gotten myself to a better weight, I’m going to have to figure that out,” she says.
The Farm Bill, the Big Picture, and the Challenge: Strengthening the Food Security and Nutrition Security Programs for the 21st Century
Even so, in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, nearly 9.5 million older adults, ages 50 and up, were considered “food insecure,” meaning they sometimes struggled to afford all the food they needed, according to an AARP analysis. In addition, an estimated 9 million children live in food insecure homes, according to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit group that works to end hunger. In the US at some point in 2021, 10% of households had food insufficiency.
This year, as lawmakers on Capitol Hill re-authorize the farm bill, which includes a review of the SNAP program, advocates say there’s an opportunity to strengthen the program, especially at a time when diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes are on the rise.
A recent CDC report found 1 in 2 young children in the U.S. don’t eat a daily vegetable, but most consume plenty of sugary drinks. In the US, about 1 in 5 children are obese.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force recommends strengthening food and nutrition security through the farm bill, including expanding the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program that gives SNAP recipients more money to buy fruits and vegetables.
This is similar to the Double Up Food Bucks program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used to buy produce at farmers markets and other venues. Another idea is to strengthen standards for retailers to encourage a wider variety of nutritious foods in stores.
The farm bill, which is typically re-authorized every five years, is set to expire at the end of September. It’s a massive piece of legislation that governs everything from agriculture subsidies to nutrition programs, including SNAP.
Mitchell says there’s lots of momentum — from a wide variety of groups, policymakers to health care organizations — to scale up programs that can be beneficial. Mitchell says there are a couple of ways in which people could use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to purchase healthy foods.
In the meantime there are still many people in need. The Mid-Ohio Food Collective, Ohio’s largest food bank, had an increase in need before the emergency benefits ran out.