Impending SNAP cuts: ‘There’s no way…that we’re ever going to make up fully for what’s being lost’
Beginning this week, tens of millions of Americans in 32 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands may have less to eat.
That’s because increased SNAP aid approved by Congress in 2020 as part of COVID-19 relief legislation – called “emergency allotments” (EAs) — comes to an end beginning March 1. (The other 18 mostly Republican-led states were allowed to end their relief aid earlier after they ended their COVID-19 public health emergency declarations. For a full list of how states will be affected, and how much the average person and household in each state will lose, go here.)
The amount of aid individuals and households will lose varies widely due to a complicated mix of circumstances including income level, size of household, and geographic location. But every household in the affected states and territories will lose at least $95 a month. In some cases, the loss will be much, much greater, more along the lines of $250 a month or more – and anti-hunger advocates warn of an impending “hunger cliff” that will result in a spike of food insecurity in the U.S.
“There’s no way, that I see, that we’re ever going to make up fully for what’s being lost,” Ellen Vollinger, SNAP Director for the Food Research & Action Center, told USA TODAY.
Because rural areas have higher rates of food insecurity and poverty, and because a higher percentage of people receive SNAP in rural areas compared with metro areas, it stands to reason that the “hunger cliff” disproportionately will affect rural residents, according to Andrew Cheyne, Managing Director of Public Policy for GRACE, a food bank run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Compounding the problem is the fact that many SNAP recipients have no idea the cuts are coming.
“We have so many households who simply aren’t going to know that this is happening,” Cheyne told USA TODAY. “They’re going to go to the grocery store and expect to have money in their account and not be able to buy the food they need to feed their families.”
Food banks and pantries across the nation are preparing to be greeted by a new onslaught of families like Hall’s who will need additional assistance. But the food banks themselves are caught up in a “twindemic” from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and spiraling inflation.
According to an estimate from the Capital Area Food Bank, which serves Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs, the average meal in the region costs $4.13, and the average drop in SNAP benefits for local recipients will be $93 per month. The result will be 23 fewer meals a month for each SNAP recipient.
“That’s a week’s worth of meals each month for these families,” Radha Muthiah, President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, told the Washington Post, adding that the food bank estimates the SNAP cut will mean 7.5 million fewer meals each month for the D.C. area. “If we are even going to make up half of those meals, that’s going to cost us north of $3 million.”
Anti-hunger advocates say that while food banks are an important lifeline, they can’t make up for the losses in SNAP funding. Prior to the pandemic, the Capital Area Food Bank spent about $5 million a year buying food. Now it is spending nearly $24 billion on foodstuffs.
And Congress is unlikely to step in, at least in the short term. There could eventually be some relief in the form of a new farm bill, which must be reauthorized this year. But there is a greater threat in that some in Congress actually want to cut SNAP, not increase benefits. In any event, no additional help from the federal government will be coming for those facing cuts as early as next week.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes that without the additional aid, SNAP benefits nationwide will average only about $6.10 per person per day – hardly enough to pay for three square, healthy meals.
“The end of the temporary EAs will be a significant change that will increase food hardship for many individuals and families, given the modest amount of basic SNAP benefits and high recent inflation in food prices,” CBPP writes.