The COVID-related increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits has come to an end in 32 states, along with the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
More than 41 million Americans will be affected by the change, and many families are expected to receive at least $95 less per month beginning March 1, according to the research and policy think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“I don’t know what I am going to do when these benefits end. When I go to the supermarket everything is so expensive,” said Jessenia Peralta, a 44-year-old mother of six based in New York City. “These emergency benefits need to continue so the kids don’t suffer.”
Congress previously issued temporary increases to address food insecurity during the pandemic, when unemployment rates skyrocketed to a high of nearly 15% and more than 22 million jobs were lost. But the passage of the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which outlines appropriations to federal agencies during the year, ended emergency aid allotments after February 2023. Eighteen states—mostly Republican-led—have already dropped their additional allotments because they previously ended their emergency declarations.
Research shows that emergency allotments helped keep 4.2 million people above the poverty line in the last quarter of 2021, mostly helping the Black and Latino population.
The shift comes amid elevated rates of food inflation, with grocery staples like eggs up 138% higher than they were last year.
“Soaring inflation, food shortages, and a slowing economy have all increased—not decreased — the need for food assistance for millions of people, even with the darkest days of the pandemic behind us,” Nick Buess, Director of Government Relations at Food Bank For New York City, tells TIME.
The Food Bank for New York City is one among numerous pantries that previously spoke to TIME and reported a rise in increased food assistance since the pandemic. Buess says that visits to their food bank across the five boroughs has gone up by 80% since COVID-19.
“The things that I used to buy, I can’t afford now,” Mamie Wallace, 60, who relies on the Food Bank for New York City for supplemental grocery needs previously told TIME. “I didn’t notice [food inflation at first] because I had my freezer stocked up but since it’s been over a year now, things are starting to run out.”
But even as research shows that 1 in ten Americans currently live in a food-insecure household, House Republicans are looking to cut food stamps even more and enact stricter work requirements for recipients in an effort to decrease the federal deficit. Conservative leaders, such as former director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought, have vouched for broader cuts to social programs, including more than $400 billion in cuts to food stamps, according to the Washington Post.
And in conservative-majority states like Iowa, state legislators introduced a new bill that would limit the types of food recipients could purchase. The proposal would not allow people to purchase white grains—meaning they could only buy 100% whole wheat bread and pasta—, baked beans, fresh meat, or sliced cheese, among other limits.
Other SNAP waivers will be affected soon after the federal public health emergency ends on May 11. This includes SNAP temporary student exemptions, which permitted certain students who were enrolled at least half-time for their higher education degree to receive food stamps. They will lose aid in June, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), though some may still be eligible if they meet the regular student exemption guidelines, which can include working at least 20 hours a week, caring for a child or not being able to work.
Under the emergency allotments, the government also temporarily paused the time limits on SNAP benefits able-bodied adults under the age of 50 who do not have dependents and are not pregnant could receive. Adults will now return to the previous standard, which said that they could not receive food stamps for more than 3 months within a 3-year period unless they met certain work guidelines.
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