DES MOINES (IA) Month after month, the nearly 40 million Americans who rely on the federal food stamp programme watch their benefits dwindle, even as the country grapples with the highest food prices in decades.
Governors are ending COVID-19 disaster declarations and opting out of a federal programme that made their states eligible for large increases in SNAP benefits, often known as food stamps. The higher benefit was implemented in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, people and families in need receive varying levels of assistance based on their state’s politics.
Nebraska ended emergency benefits four months into the pandemic, in July 2020, to “teach the rest of the country how to get back to normal,” Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said.
Since then, almost a dozen Republican-led states have followed suit, with Iowa cutting benefits this month. Wyoming and Kentucky will also decrease benefits next month. The benefits were also reduced in North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Tennessee.
Republican leaders claim the enhanced benefits were simply meant to help those temporarily laid off by the outbreak. They claim that because the virus has subsided, the increased pay is no longer necessary at a time when businesses in most states are struggling to find labour.
But the added perks help struggling families in a time of soaring food costs. The programme pays recipients at least $95 per month, but some individuals and families receiving relatively minor assistance can earn hundreds more.
Everything stops if the federal government decides to end the public health emergency, which the Biden administration hasn’t indicated it will.
Tara Kramer, 45, of Des Moines, lost $250 in March due to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to terminate emergency funding on April 1. Due to her hereditary disease that causes tremendous discomfort, Kramer said the extra money allowed her to buy healthier food and be more active.
Kramer’s heart fell. “Pre-emergency allotment memories flooded back.”
“We have to return to pre-pandemic life,” said Reynolds spokesman Alex Murphy. Murphy noted that the state unemployment website lists over 86,000 job opportunities.
But Kramer says she can’t work and that leaving her apartment is sometimes difficult.
Ending the extra benefits misses the fact that the need for food banks hasn’t decreased as the pandemic fades, according to Vince Hall, public policy director for Feeding America.
While wages have risen and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 per cent in March, the gains have been negated by an 8.5 per cent spike in inflation. Food is one of the fastest-growing goods, leaving many families hungry.
A hunger pandemic is replacing the COVID epidemic, Hall says. “We’re really struggling.”
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Feeding America, which represents 200 food banks, predicts growing demand for food as individual donations decline and food costs rise. The organisation predicts food banks will spend 40% more on food in the fiscal year ending June 2022.
For Annie Ballan, 51, of Omaha, Nebraska, Ricketts’ decision to drop out lowered her and her son’s SNAP payments from over $500 to $41. Both are sick and unable to work.
“People go hungry from mid-month to end-month,” Ballan raged. “The governor is to blame. And he says he loves Nebraskans, but he has cut off our food.”
SNAP payments, which normally cover nine meals for every one meal provided by food banks, are being reduced by more states, Hall said.
Louisianians Valerie and John Andrews, 59 and 59, said their monthly SNAP benefits dropped from $430 to $219 after Missouri stopped the extra payments in August 2021. Andrews, a disabled woman, says she tries to budget and uses a food bank, but it’s difficult.
“We’re barely scraping by,” she remarked. “It’s usually fairly rough.”
They will do their utmost to fulfil additional demand, but they cannot entirely offset the loss of SNAP benefits.
The cost of a 5-ounce can of chicken has risen from 54 cents in March 2019 to $1.05.