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Emergency Food Benefits Will End in March Nationwide. Here’s How to Cope

Emergency Food Benefits Will End in March Nationwide. Here’s How to Cope
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February will be the last month households can get extra SNAP payments.

Key points

  • Congress just passed legislation that ends the emergency SNAP allotments, no matter where you live.
  • Until now, more than half the states in the U.S. have opted to pay extra food benefits.
  • Food NGOs warn of an impending “hunger cliff” when extra payments end.

It’s been almost three years since the government introduced additional SNAP food benefits designed to help families through the COVID pandemic. The extra money cushioned families a little against the economic impact of the pandemic and the sky-high inflation that followed. However, that’s about to come to an end. Last week, the government passed legislation that will do away with these emergency payments throughout the country.

The new law means February will be the last month households can get extra SNAP cash, whichever state they are in. While some local authorities already ended the extra SNAP payments, more than half the U.S. states continue to make them. As a result, many families will see a deduction in their food payments in March.

SNAP benefit boost will end in March

SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to give it its full name, is a federal program designed to help low-income families afford healthy food. In much of the country, the maximum monthly benefit for a family of four is $939. Payments are higher in high-cost states like Hawaii and Alaska.

In normal times, a household’s benefit is calculated by making deductions from the maximum based on things like income. But the pandemic provisions let states pay families the full amount, without any deductions. They could also give up to $95 extra to households that already receive the maximum. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the emergency allotments, along with other measures, “played a key part in averting increased hunger.”

The emergency allotments have been managed on a state-by-state basis, and a number of places have already stopped paying the extra money. However, 32 states, including states with high levels of hunger like Louisiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas, have continued. February will be the last month they’re able to do so. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 ends the SNAP benefit boost in all U.S. states by March.

This will have a significant impact on many families who’d come to rely on the extra cash — especially as it’s gone some way to helping cover the soaring costs of rent, utilities, and other essentials. Low-income families have been hardest hit by inflation as they already spend a lot of their cash on necessities and don’t have a lot of space to cut their spending.

Late last year, the Food Research & Action Center warned the end to emergency allotments could cause a “hunger cliff for millions of people.” It added that the “steepest cliff will be for older adults at the minimum benefit level who will have their monthly SNAP benefits fall from $281 to $23.”

How to cope if your emergency payments will end

Unfortunately, the end in emergency SNAP payments will translate to less money in many family’s bank accounts. If you’re worried about how to cope when the extra money stops, take these steps now:

  • Adjust your food budget: If you’re about to lose a chunk of your SNAP benefits, start by working out how much you’re likely to lose. Let’s say you need to find an extra $50 a month to spend on groceries. How can you cut costs in other areas to make up that cash? Or can you take on extra hours at work to bring in some extra money?
  • Look for ways to make your SNAP money go further: If you live in a state with a Double Up Food Bucks program, use it. You can get twice as much fruit and vegetables when you spend your SNAP dollars at participating farmers markets and stores.
  • Use cash back apps: Look for cash back apps that let you scan your receipts after purchase. Some ask you to activate offers before you go to the store, while others simply pay points based on what you’ve bought.
  • Maximize discounts: Offers come in many shapes and sizes, including in store discounts, coupons, and coupon apps. The trick is to seek out offers on the products you buy regularly, especially more costly items like meat or detergent.
  • Check out other assistance programs: Make sure you’re getting all the financial support you’re entitled to. If you’re pregnant or have young children, perhaps you can get additional help from the Women, Infants, and Children program. If you’re over 60, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program might help. In addition to food support programs, you may also qualify for help paying your utility bills or covering your rent.

Emergency help is available

If you don’t know how to put food on the table right now, you’re not alone. It isn’t always easy to ask for help, but perhaps a food pantry or soup kitchen could mean you or your family don’t go hungry. There are several NGOs such as Feeding America and food pantries out there with networks of hunger-relief projects throughout the country. Call United Way on 2-1-1 to find out about local assistance and any national programs you might qualify for.

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