SNAP returns to pre-Covid payment levels: Impact on Food Independence and our Clients

We planned to discuss how we source about 12,000 lbs of food for over 300 households each month, our “new norm”. Instead, we want to provide a local perspective on the “BREAKING NEWS” getting national attention: “end of covid era supplemental SNAP (aka “food stamps”) benefits”. This supplement started in March 2020 at the beginning of Covid. It was designed to continue until the public health emergency ended which is scheduled for May 11, 2023. The VA Dept of Social Services website announcement about this closes by saying “In March 2023, all SNAP households’ benefits will return to normal amounts, without the additional allotment benefits”. It has been widely reported that family SNAP benefits will decrease by $93/month, on average, starting with March payments. It seems logical that emergency programs end with the emergency but no matter how logical, this puts more pressure on food insecure in Grayson County and on Food Independence and other pantries.
We will avoid the political and philosophical debates about this and focus on the factual impacts on our clients who receive SNAP benefits and the resultant impact on Food Independence. In VA, a typical household must have a gross income within 130% of the federal poverty level, based on number in the family (SNAP Gross income is about $24,000/year for 2 people and about $36,000/year for 4 people). While SNAP is for food, that income must cover all expenses from rent or mortgage to heat, electricity, property taxes, fuel and on and on. The average reduction in SNAP benefits is about $1,100/year, for families with low, often fixed, income. The reduction in benefits is to 2020 levels and does not account for recent high inflation, especially for food. During this period fuel prices and rent also increased, as did most other expenses. Electricity locally has just increased by an average of $20/month. We could also point out all the things “they” should or should not have done to be better prepared. That makes for a great debate but does not reduce added pressure on already stressed household incomes due to SNAP reductions, inflation, etc. and subsequent pressure on Food Independence.
The bottom line: more people will need more food assistance, in Grayson County and elsewhere. We are already seeing the impacts at Food Independence. We grew a lot in 2022 due to inflation. The norm at food pantries is for November and December to have the highest demand, with substantial (25-40%) decreases through winter and spring. This year, as awareness of SNAP changes grew, our numbers from November through February have remained constant at around 350 boxes per month. We expect an increase in March! If our numbers remain the same, or rise, all year, we will meet demand but it will be a challenge! For our clients, if they were just getting by before covid, inflation and other cost increases, they were probably not getting by at the end of 2022. This is now compounded by an average of a $1,100/year cut in their food budget, starting this month. Remember, “they” are our friends, relatives and neighbors in Grayson County. Also, keep Food Independence in your thoughts as we prepare to meet expected increases in demand while our bulk donated food access is down, costs are up and demand is growing. We have much to be proud of for what we, as one part of Grayson LandCare, have done and we will be proud of how we handle this, but it is a real challenge for both us and our clients

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