Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits are expected to decrease for millions of recipients as early as March due to cuts in the 2023 Omnibus spending bill. Anti-hunger advocates say the changes will accelerate the looming hunger cliff.
In 2020, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress increased SNAP benefits through emergency allotments (EAs). These EAs, issued to households in addition to their normal monthly SNAP benefits, helped to address rising rates of food insecurity in the U.S.
While some states have already ended their EAs, more than half maintained the supplemental benefits into the new year. With cuts in the 2023 Omnibus spending bill, however, EAs for all SNAP recipients will come to an end, with February marking the last month that the EA benefits will be issued.
“It’s expected that the loss of EAs will cost about US$82 a SNAP participant a month,” Ellen Vollinger, SNAP Director for the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) tells Food Tank.
Older adults, who are typically part of smaller households and receive the minimum benefit level, will likely feel these cuts the hardest. FRAC estimates that they will see their allotments fall from US$281 to pre-pandemic levels, just US$23 per month.
Vollinger calls the cuts “premature,” pointing out that EAs were “designed to be for the duration of the pandemic health declaration.” And while the supplemental benefits are ending, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary recently renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency, which gives the Biden-Harris administration the authority to respond to the pandemic.
This change is “coming at a time when we’re hearing, anecdotally, from emergency food providers around the country [about] how tough it is for them to keep up with the demand that they’re seeing, even toward the end of 2022,” Vollinger tells Food Tank. “There’s no way that this is not going to have a very negative impact on their purchasing power.”
For every one meal that food banks in Feeding America’s network provides, the nonprofit estimates that SNAP provides nine. And to understand the impact the cuts will have, anti-hunger advocates say they need only to look to states where EAs have already ended.
Propel, a financial services technology company that builds products for low-income Americans, designed a smartphone app for SNAP participants. The free tool allows electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card holders to check their EBT balance and transaction history. Propel can also use the platform to survey its users, which they began doing on a monthly basis at the onset of the pandemic.
According to Propel’s survey, 45 percent of users in 2022 were running low or were out of what they needed on a monthly basis. “This is a very high percentage of respondents and SNAP households,” Stacy Taylor, Head of Policy and Partnerships for Propel, tells Food Tank. But, Taylor continues, in states that ended their EAs early, the number jumps 7 points, with 52 percent of respondents reporting that they were running low or were out of basic necessities at the end of the month.
Congress argues that the elimination of SNAP boosts is necessary to enable investment in child nutrition programs. The Omnibus bill will establish a new, permanent, nationwide summer program that will give families of eligible children an additional US$40 per month per child for food. It will also grant providers of summer meals greater flexibility to make meal distribution easier and increase food access.
Vollinger, however, doesn’t believe in the trade-off. “For the families who are going to be affected, the math does not really work out for them,” she states. While FRAC supports summer food programs, she explains that the new benefits are “modest compared to the magnitude of dollars that we’re talking about here with the emergency allotments.”
State agencies are currently working with SNAP households to ensure they know that changes to monthly allotments are coming. Vollinger says it’s also important that recipients are aware of deductions—which vary depending on out of pocket costs for childcare, medical expenses, and other necessities—so they can receive the full benefits they are eligible for.
But “it’s only a dent,” Vollinger tells Food Tank. “None of these…are sufficient to fill this really enormous gap that’s coming. And that’s why we call it a hunger cliff.”
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Photo courtesy of Victoriano Izquierd, Unsplash