By Joe Gomez
As food prices continue to soar nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states as of this month that pandemic-era food stamp benefits will end, while families receiving those benefits say they’re being put in a financial bind.
“I didn’t even know this was happening until I saw it on the news last night,” Gale Gurule, who is a single mother with two children in Sacramento, California, told The Epoch Times. “Right now, I get the maximum amount, but I hear I’m going to get about $200 less and these kids love to eat.”
Gurule is one of nearly 30 million Americans who will see the emergency allotments to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits expire Wednesday, nearly three years since the pandemic-era payments were put into place. The average monthly boost to benefits has been close to $95 per household.
The emergency allotments were intended to expire when the pandemic ended. President Joe Biden is expected to declare an end to the pandemic in May. Congress also recently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a 2023 law that ends emergency allotments after February.
“I’m on a fixed income as it is. I wish Biden would do something about this,” said Gurule. “My benefits will be gone in a week with the cost of meat alone and prices going up, we’re going to have to start eating cheap processed foods.”
Food prices have gone up by 10.1 percent since last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (pdf). The cost of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs has increased by 15 percent, while staples such as butter have increased by 31 percent.
Households that receive both Social Security and SNAP will also see a further decrease in their SNAP benefits this year, owing to the cost-of-living increase in Social Security, which is the largest in 40 years, according to the USDA.
However, the USDA maintains it is still a net gain for those receiving Social Security as “the decrease in SNAP benefits is less than the increase in Social Security benefits.”
Californians to Feel the Pinch
When millions of people lost their jobs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed by then-president Donald J. Trump on Mar. 18, 2020, and provided an Emergency Allotment of SNAP benefits until the end of the pandemic.
That means that since March 2020, most households on SNAP received an extra benefit of $95 per month.
The increase in benefits was a lifeline for those out of work, according to a report by the Urban Institute, which found that “emergency allotments kept 4.2 million people out of poverty in the fourth quarter of 2021, reducing poverty by 9.6 percent in states with emergency allotments. Emergency allotments reduced child poverty by 14.0 percent in states with these benefits.”
In California, the nation’s most populous state, food bank officials say individuals and families relying on SNAP benefits are really going to feel the pinch.
“The ending of emergency allotments will impact all five million Californians currently on CalFresh [known as SNAP nationally]—which is about three million households,” Lauren Lathan Reid, director of communications and member engagement of the California Association of Food Banks, told The Epoch Times. “The average person is expected to lose about $82 per month, and the average household will lose about $200 per month. This is going to create widespread hardship and increase hunger throughout our state. Especially now, with the high cost of groceries and a struggling California economy.”
Reid went on to say that the reduction in benefits will not only hurt families but also put extra strain on food banks as well. “Food banks have been stretched since the onset of the pandemic, and anticipate that now even more Californians will turn to them to fill their fridges and pantries.”
California is one of 32 states, along with Washington, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that will lose at least $95 a month as SNAP temporary pandemic benefits end, according to the USDA. Eighteen other states have already ended the extra SNAP benefits, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming.
The boost in food stamp benefits was only supposed to be temporary until the pandemic ended; but in 2021, several Democrats in Congress proposed making an increase to the baseline of SNAP benefits by 30 percent permanent through a piece of legislation called the Closing the Meal Gap Act. The legislation was sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), along with senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.)
“The United States was already facing a severe food crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We live in the richest nation in the world, and yet 42 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity. This is unacceptable,” Gillibrand stated at the time. “SNAP provides a critical lifeline for so many families, and it needs support more than ever to meet the needs of SNAP recipients. I am proud to work with Congresswoman Adams on the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2021 to enhance SNAP benefits, break down the barriers to eligibility, and keep food on the table for all Americans.”
The Biden administration also boosted SNAP benefits by adjusting the Thrifty Food Plan used to calculate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The reevaluation of the plan resulted in the average benefit increasing by $36.24 per person, per month, or $1.19 per day.
“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition—it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more.”
Top House Republicans meanwhile are looking at ways to cut SNAP benefits to further reduce the nation’s debt.
“A Republican majority will make work, not government handouts, the best financial option for able-bodied citizens,” Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), the leader of the House Budget Committee, wrote in an op-ed recently. “Democrats have stripped work requirements from welfare programs and have even paid people more to be on government unemployment than they made in their previous jobs.”