The end of February brought the end of emergency allotment SNAP benefits for thousands of individuals and families across the Southern Tier as federal funding for the program has been eliminated since COVID-19 is no longer considered a threat to public health.
In March 2020 — underscored by the chaos of the first weeks of living in a global pandemic — Congress temporarily increased SNAP benefits because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. As a result, supplemental EA SNAP benefits were issued to households in addition to the normal amount of their monthly SNAP benefits. This led to households receiving more SNAP benefits each month than they normally would have been eligible for based on their income and expenses.
According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “In recent months the EAs have provided about $3 billion each month in additional SNAP benefits in the states in which they are in effect.”
As a result of this increased government support, former Food Bank of the Southern Tier President, Natasha Thompson said that the Food bank actually saw demand decrease in 2021 when compared to demand in 2020 and 2019 — before the arrival of the pandemic. However, as pandemic-era support systems have gradually eroded the food bank has seen an increase in demand once again.
According to Thompson, “by the end of Q2, we saw a 35% increase in 2022 compared to 2021 at the same time period.” Thompson continued saying that represents a 14% increase since before the pandemic in 2019.
Community Food System Plan Coordinator, Katie Hallas has also told the Ithaca Times that despite efforts to address food insecurity, “we have more food insecurity in this community than anyone is comfortable with. IT fluctuates up here, but it’s something around 11,000 residents experiencing food insecurity.” Hallas continued saying that “it's not that we don't have resources and services, it's that many people who could utilize them are not.” These numbers are expected to get even worse with the elimination of emergency allotment benefits.
February was the last month that supplemental EA benefits were issued, and SNAP benefits have since returned to their normal amount because Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2022, which ended the supplemental EA benefits prior to President Joe Biden’s scheduled date to declare an end to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11th.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report outlining that households in 35 states will lose at least $95 a month. In New York State households are estimated to lose an average of $151 a month. This reduction is expected to increase food insecurity for SNAP recipients nationwide, and Tompkins County is no exception.
Social services like the SNAP are already dramatically underutilized in Tompkins County. According to the executive summary of the Tompkins County Food System Plan, only 30-40% of residents in Tompkins County who are eligible to receive SNAP benefits are enrolled in the program. In addition, according to census data almost half (55.5%) of eligible individuals in Tompkins County were not accessing SNAP benefits from 2018 to 2020.
This is likely due to the fact that the enrollment process for these programs are challenging to navigate. For example, the food system plan summary said that “one-third of food insecure residents earn too much to qualify for public food assistance programs yet struggle to stretch a limited food budget.”
These difficulties drive up rates of food insecurity, which leads to increased health care costs. According to Feeding America, “food insecure adults in Tompkins County pay [an average of] $1,193 more in health care costs over the course of a year than a food secure adult does.”
To combat the loss that will add to the inefficiencies that already exist within the SNAP system, the Food Bank of the Southern Tier issued a press release outlining their plans to increase the number of available spots for their Mobile Food Pantries “for the foreseeable future by approximately 300 families per month.”
According to FeedingAmerica.org, one in eight people in the Southern Tier experience food insecurity and the Food Bank of the Southern Tier distributes more than 13,000,000 meals to people struggling with hunger in the region every year.
According to the press release, “Program cuts like these amplify the importance of the Food Bank’s continued advocacy efforts.”
The Food Bank’s Vice President of Community Impact Randi Quackenbush said, "At a time of record high inflation and demand for food bank services, New York State stands to lose $228 million in federal funds per month. We will do our best to address the increased need, but the reality is that charity alone cannot fill this gap.”
He continued saying, “SNAP is the nation's first line of defense against hunger, and we urge our legislators to listen to and learn from those who have greatly benefited from the additional SNAP benefits throughout the pandemic. These funds are spent directly in communities, and for each $1 in SNAP, over $1.70 is generated in local economic activity."
According to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, advocating for a fully-funded SNAP Outreach program statewide, along with pushing for universal school meals for all K-12 students, and funding for programs such as Nourish New York and the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) are at the forefront of the Food Bank’s efforts in helping alleviate food insecurity.
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