Food banks expecting surge as Snap nutrition benefits cut

Food banks expecting surge as Snap nutrition benefits cut
Millions of Americans are about to be without a pandemic-era benefit that helped them buy groceries, even as inflation has caused food prices to soar.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap) benefits were increased by federal lawmakers during Covid-19, but a recently passed spending bill in Congress sunsets the emergency allotments on 1 March.

As of last October, 42.3 million Americans participated in Snap.
Now, their payments could be cut by $95 (£78) per month per household. Bigger families could see an even greater reduction to monthly payments.

For many, it could come as a surprise.

"Not everyone is following the news very closely and so the first instance at which they're going to know about this reduction is when they see what their payment is," said Radha Muthiah, President of Capital Area Food Bank in Washington DC.

"So that is my biggest fear, that it's going to hit people quite suddenly and they're going to be shocked."

Even with the emergency allotment to Snap, many food banks saw an uptick in need during the pandemic and, as inflation has risen, many are preparing for a significant increase once the additional benefits end.

According to Urban Institute, a progressive think tank, the emergency Snap allotments helped keep 4.2 million people out of poverty in the fourth quarter of 2021, reducing poverty by 9.6% in states with emergency allotments.

As of now, 18 states have already discontinued the increased allowance, with the rest of the 32 states to follow suit on Wednesday.

"While there's no doubt that families will experience challenges when the remaining pandemic benefit supplements end, we are also collaborating with states and external partners... so that they can manage the changes with knowledge and confidence," said Stacy Dean, the Department of Agriculture's deputy undersecretary of food, nutrition, and consumer services, in comments prepared for a Senate committee.

While the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror for many, low-income people are facing additional financial hardships - notably inflation and increased rents in cities. Food prices rose by about 10% in 2022.

Because of inflation, many food banks have already been seeing a strain.  

The Greater Chicago Food Depository's network served 24% more guests this January than they did one year ago. More working or middle-class families, who would not have frequented food banks before, are now newly dependent on them to supplement their grocery store trips, where their budget does not stretch as far, says Man-Yee Lee, of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

James Koroma