Even as the country grapples with the highest jump in food prices in decades, the almost 40 million Americans who rely on the federal food stamp program for aid in purchasing groceries see their benefits diminish month after month.
Governors are ending COVID-19 disaster declarations and opting out of a federal program that would have allowed their states to receive significant increases in SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
As a result, low-income individuals and families are seeing their payments decrease. In April 2020, in response to increased unemployment, the US Department of Agriculture began giving greater compensation after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country.
As a result, depending on the politics of a state, individuals and families in need may be eligible for wildly different levels of food aid.
Nebraska was the first state to act, removing emergency benefits four months after the outbreak began in July 2020, a decision Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said was necessary to “show the rest of the country how to get back to normal.”
Since then, almost a dozen Republican-led states have enacted similar measures, with Iowa becoming the latest to do so this month. Benefits in Wyoming and Kentucky will be cut in the coming month as well.
Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all decreased their benefits.
Republicans argue that the extra benefits were only intended to help those who were temporarily laid off as a result of the outbreak.
They say that now that the epidemic has passed, there is no longer a need to offer the higher pay at a time when most states are having trouble hiring enough staff.
However, at a time when food prices are rising, the additional advantages are beneficial to low-income families. Recipients receive at least $95 per month under the program, but some individuals and families that are only eligible for small benefits may receive hundreds of dollars in extra payments each month.
The entire program would come to a halt if the federal government decided to end its public health emergency, though the Biden administration has not indicated that it plans to do so.
As a result of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to halt emergency payments on April 1, Tara Kramer, 45, of Des Moines, saw her monthly SNAP assistance plummet from $250 in March to $20 in April.
Kramer, who has a hereditary illness that can cause terrible pain, said the extra money allowed her to buy healthier meals, which made her feel better and enabled her to live a more active lifestyle.
“My heart fell,” Kramer said. “It reminded me of all that happened before the emergency allotment.”
“We have to go back to pre-epidemic living,” Reynolds spokesperson Alex Murphy said, emphasizing that the additional benefits were always intended to assist those who lost jobs due to the pandemic.
A state unemployment website, according to Murphy, offers nearly 86,000 job openings in Iowa.
Kramer, on the other hand, argues that she is unable to work and that leaving her home is tough.
According to Vince Hall, the statewide food bank network Feeding America’s public policy director, ending the extra benefits ignores the fact that demand at food banks hasn’t diminished as the pandemic diminishes.
In the United States, wages have been rising, and the national unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 percent in March, but those gains have been offset by an 8.5 percent increase in inflation over the preceding year. Food is one of the most rapidly rising products, making it difficult for many families to buy enough groceries.
“The COVID pandemic is being eclipsed by a hunger pandemic,” Hall warned. “We’re in the midst of a losing struggle.”
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Even as individual donations have declined and food costs have risen, demand for food has climbed, according to Feeding America, which represents 200 food banks. Food banks across the country will spend 40% more on food in the fiscal year ending June 2022 than they did the previous year, according to the organization.
According to Hall, the demand for food banks will only grow as more states reduce their SNAP reimbursements, which typically give nine meals for every one meal provided by food banks.
“Costs are soaring through the ceiling,” he said.