National and Maryland-based hunger relief organizations are grappling with the fact that millions in federal dollars for food assistance programs are no longer available low-income families who relied on them through the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that many families still struggle to afford basic needs.
The Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit aiming to reduce poverty-related hunger, said that low-income families, including some 360,000 households in Maryland, now have less federal money for food assistance as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have gone into play.
So much so, that the organization reports the reduced funds result in the average SNAP benefits falling to about $6 a person a day.
Gina Plata-Nino, SNAP deputy director at the Food Research & Action Center, said at a webinar last week that many households across the United States are still facing food insecurity as a result of the COVID pandemic, but people have less access to assistance as COVID policies expire.
“We’re facing such a food insecurity rate, at the same level at the height of the pandemic, but we don’t have the resources,” Plata-Nino said.
The drop in SNAP dollars comes from a terminated COVID-era policy that provided additional funds to SNAP users during the global health crisis, which were referred to as “emergency allotments.”
The amount that people receive in SNAP benefits is typically calculated based on a household’s income, expenses, and the number of people. However, during the pandemic, the feds provided additional funds to keep households afloat during that time, which was a minimum of $281 for one person a month.
According to FRAC reports, the steepest cuts are felt by older adults who only qualify for the minimum SNAP benefit, as their allotment drops from $281 a month to just $23 a month, which the organization calls a “hunger cliff.”
For Maryland, terminating the emergency allotments has resulted in the state losing out on some $69 million in federal funding that previously helped 360,000 SNAP recipient households afford their food.
Michael J. Wilson, director of the nonprofit Maryland Hunger Solutions, said that his organization has received calls from SNAP recipients who are confused or angry about their SNAP dollars dropping so much.
“We’ve had people who call us and say ‘I was getting $281 and now I am getting $23.’ I’m getting $30. I’m getting $40. What’s going on? Did they make a mistake?’” Wilson said. “And even though we did as much as we could to warn people ahead of time that this change was coming, everybody didn’t hear it. Everybody didn’t recognize it. Everybody didn’t realize it meant them.”
Now that Marylanders and low-income families across the United States are seeing their SNAP benefits drop dramatically, hunger-relief organizations are weighing how to help food-insecure people.
The Food Research & Action Center is pushing for U.S. Congress to bolster SNAP benefits in discussions about renewal of the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in September.
Wilson with Maryland Hunger Solutions said that he would like to work with the Moore administration to secure funds so that SNAP recipients receive a boost in their monthly benefit allotment.
“We’re trying to start those conversations, because we think Maryland can do better and should do better,” Wilson said.
“So we are hopeful to engage with the Moore administration as well as with the legislature to talk about how we can add additional benefits for SNAP participants,” he said. “We know that those dollars are investments, that they are spent in our grocery stores and our farmers markets. They don’t get wasted.”
Gov. Wes Moore (D) previewed a potentially challenging fiscal year for Maryland’s state budget Saturday, when he said he would have to make some ‘disciplined’ decisions regarding next year’s budget.
“I know that the state is grappling with budget challenges and I appreciate what the governor said, that we still have priorities, and we’ve got to find a way to both deal with our priorities and with the budget challenges,” Wilson said. “I think the things we are asking the state to consider doing are the kinds of investments we know helps low-income families.”