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The pandemic boost to SNAP benefits ends nationwide in March

 Shoppers like those at this Kroger store in Rolla, MO will see higher food prices this year, especially for meat and fresh fruit.
Jonathan Ahl
Harvest Public Media
Shoppers like those at this Kroger store in Rolla, MO will see higher food prices this year, especially for meat and fresh fruit.

Early in the pandemic, the federal government provided extra food benefits for low-income people and families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Those additional benefits, called emergency allotments, added at least $95 to each household’s monthly food budget, giving extra help to many families at a time when schools were closed and much of the U.S. went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

But those added benefits will end next month for all households on SNAP, including in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Oklahoma. Congress passed a law last year bringing the emergency allotments to an end nationwide by March.

Eighteen states, including Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Indiana and Iowa, already had ended the extra allotments.

“It just gave us a lot of peace of mind, frankly, a lot of a cushion,” said Iowa City, Iowa resident Cecilia Proffit of the additional $250 her family received each month.

That extra funding stopped in April 2022, forcing Proffit to strategize on how to make a limited amount of food last longer for four people.

“The stress just ticks up,” she said. “You start thinking again ‘how long can I make a gallon of milk last? What do I do if my kids won’t eat this?’ The mental load just gets that much heavier.”

Proffit’s story paints the stark reality that people in the program’s remaining states will face when the extra benefits end next month.

In Oklahoma, about 300,000 households and close to 800,000 people receive SNAP benefits, said Deborah Smith, the director of Adult and Family Services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Smith said people likely have come to depend on their increased food budget after nearly three years.

“With the emergency allotments ending after this amount of time, there’s no doubt there will be a lot of families who will struggle with this transition,” she said.

Smith’s department is trying to make people aware that the extra benefits will soon stop. Employees have been using social media and sending out emails to notify residents.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 41 million people receive benefits through SNAP. But those benefits are “not very generous to begin with,” said Thomas Gremillion, the food policy director with the Consumer Federation of America.

When the emergency allotments end across the country, Gremillion expects that food pantries and other charity organizations will see additional pressure to help fill the need for families whose food budgets decrease.

“It’s going to be a really big deal for the families that are receiving SNAP benefits,” he said.

Additionally, the move comes at a time when food is costing more due to inflation.

With higher prices at the grocery store low-income people “just can’t afford the food they need,” said Joel Berg, the CEO for the advocacy organization Hunger Free America.

He expects when the extra benefits end, people won’t be able to buy as much — or as healthy — food.

“When you take that away, they’re hungry,” Berg said.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Katie Peikes