Should SNAP Emergency Money Stay Permanent? How Food Insecurity May Worsen as Funds Cut Back

Cropped picture of a senior woman holding empty shopping basket during economy crises.
dusanpetkovic / Getty Images/iStockphoto

One of the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it contributed to a food crisis for households that suddenly faced a loss of income due to business shutdowns. The U.S. government responded by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to include emergency allotments in addition to regular monthly payments.

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With the pandemic no longer considered a major health crisis, those emergency allotments are due to end nationwide beginning in March 2023. Some individual states have already ended emergency allotments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

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SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal food purchasing assistance program overseen by the USDA but administered at the state level.

When the emergency allotments end, SNAP recipients who qualified for the extra money will see their monthly payments fall by $95 or more. According to some estimates, the average monthly SNAP benefit will be reduced by $82 a month per person.

These developments have prompted hunger advocates to sound the alarm about the potentially devastating impact on the food security of millions of financially strapped American households.

In a Jan. 31 report for the Union of Concerned Scientists, interdisciplinary scientist Alice Reznickova warned of an “approaching hunger cliff” for many of the 42 million people who depend on SNAP. That’s mainly because SNAP benefits might not have been enough even before the emergency allotments were approved.

“Because so many people are now at risk of going hungry without these extra benefits, this shows that pre-pandemic SNAP was insufficient,” Reznickova wrote. “In other words, the pandemic expansion of SNAP was not just an emergency benefit, but rather an integral supplement that would have made SNAP work better in the future.”

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Food Insecurity Remains a Concern in America

Between 10% and 15% of U.S. households were deemed food insecure each year over the past two decades, Reznickova noted, citing USDA data. That’s the case even with the assistance of SNAP benefits.

What’s more, not everyone who is food insecure even qualifies for SNAP.

To be eligible, a household’s gross income must be at or below 130% of the poverty line, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For a family of three, the poverty line used to calculate SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2023 is $1,920 a month. This means that 130% of the poverty line for a three-person family is $2,495 a month, or about $29,940 a year. The poverty level is higher for bigger families and lower for smaller families, the CBPP said.

But as Reznickova pointed out, studies on food security have found that nearly 19% of households with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty threshold identify as food insecure. But because of their income, they don’t qualify for SNAP benefits.

Many who need help putting food on the table may not qualify and those who do [qualify] may not receive enough benefits,” Reznickova wrote. The introduction of new necessities (such as technology) as well as skyrocketing costs for healthcare, education, and housing take up more space in a household budget while incomes have stagnated. This means that households may be spending more than 70% of their income on other necessities and may not be able to afford food even at incomes higher than the federal poverty threshold.”

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She recommended that government officials re-evaluate the eligibility requirements for SNAP, while others have urged lawmakers to make the emergency SNAP payments permanent. So far, neither of those things have happened.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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