‘Huge Hunger Cliff' Looms, Warns Expert: Average Recipient to Get $90 Less in Food Stamps as Covid Aid Ends

Apu Gomes | AFP | Getty Images
  • In March, 32 states and Washington, D.C., will end emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aid that helped individuals and families cope with food insecurity during the pandemic.
  • The average person is projected to receive about $90 less in SNAP benefits per month.
  • "It's a huge hunger cliff families are facing," one expert said.

Food stamp recipients may be in for a shock as temporary pandemic enhancements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program expire, leading the average person to receive about $90 less in benefits per month.

"It's a huge hunger cliff families are facing," said Poonam Gupta, research associate at the Urban Institute's Income and Benefits Policy Center.

As of March, 32 states along with Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands will end the emergency allotments that were put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to help individuals and families cope with food insecurity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Congress terminated SNAP's emergency increases with the December government funding bill. The broader federal public health emergency is scheduled to end May 11.

The SNAP emergency benefits have already ended in 18 states. For beneficiaries in the remaining locations, the February issuance will be their last with extra pandemic sums.

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Once the extra aid ends, every household in the affected states will receive at least $95 per month less, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Some households will see a loss of $250 or more in benefits based on their incomes.

"It will unfortunately leave a lot of families across the country scrambling to stretch their budgets," Gupta added.

Cuts to result in 'a really tight budget' amid inflation

The change comes as inflation is still reflected in higher prices on grocery store shelves. The latest consumer price index data shows double-digit percentage year-over-year price increases for eggs, butter and margarine, frozen vegetables, lettuce, and cereal and baking products.

Once SNAP's emergency allotments phase out, benefits will average about $6.10 per person per day, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"That's a really tight budget if you're talking about low-income families," said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research and Action Center.

Starting this month, tens of millions of people will see large amounts of benefits missing from what they otherwise would have expected, she noted.

"This is a very precipitous change," Vollinger said. "It hasn't given a lot of time for customers to even know this is coming."

The Food Research and Action Center is one of several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state agencies, that are working to spread the word about the change to make sure people are not surprised by a benefit shortfall at the grocery store checkout counter, according to Vollinger.

Meanwhile, some states are considering or have enacted state funds to help replace the lost federal benefits, either on a temporary or permanent basis. Last year, New Jersey enacted a SNAP floor of $95 per household.

The burden is now on states, cities and counties to do more as the federal government has shifted the problem and costs associated with it downstream, Vollinger said.

The Food Research and Action Center has advocated for congressional legislation to address the problem. That includes one bill, the Closing the Meal Gap Act, that would increase the minimum SNAP benefit and eliminate certain eligibility limits. The proposal had the support of more than 100 House Democrats and certain Senate Democrats in 2021 and 2022.

Spending on SNAP is slated to be part of the debate as lawmakers look to pass a new farm bill.

However, a reinstatement of the pandemic-era benefit enhancements is unlikely, Gupta said. In fact, some House lawmakers have called for cutting back on SNAP spending, Vollinger noted.

Food bank braces for increased demand

Los Angeles County Regional Food Bank workers help with food distribution in Willowbrook, California, on April 29, 2021.
Frederic J. Brown | Afp | Getty Images
Los Angeles County Regional Food Bank workers help with food distribution in Willowbrook, California, on April 29, 2021.

The Urban Institute's research shows the policy helped keep 4.2 million people above the poverty line. It also helped reduce poverty by 10% and child poverty by 14%. The reduction in poverty was highest for Black and Latino individuals.

As the extra benefits end, people will have to consider whether they can still afford to put the same amount of food on the table, Vollinger said.

Often that may mean an adult missing a meal. At worst, it could mean a child missing a meal, she said.

Residents of California will receive their last February emergency allotment in March, along with residents of a small group of other states including Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Vermont.

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is bracing for a surge in demand when the extra pandemic benefits drop off.

"We're very worried about it, because this is a huge drop" in California's SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh, said Michael Flood, the food bank's president and CEO. The food bank serves 800,000 county residents per month with 600 partner agencies and food pantries.

The food bank has been increasing its food purchases in recent weeks to anticipate increased demand for food assistance, Flood said.

Yet it is unclear how many more individuals and families may seek help. In the aftermath of the pandemic's onset in 2020, the food bank was serving 1 million county residents, Flood said.

"If the resources are there, we know we can scale up and provide help," Flood said. "But it's not without its challenges."

What to know if you're on SNAP

  1. You will continue to receive your regular benefits, even after the pandemic enhancements end, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said.
  2. If you have questions about your benefits, contact your state human services agency.
  3. If you're seeking assistance, you may try dialing 211 to connect to agencies and community organizations.
  4. If your personal situation has changed — your income has recently declined or certain qualifying expenses have increased — you may qualify for a higher regular benefit after updating your information with your state human services agency, according to the center.
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