The additional federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program ended on March 31 – and now SNAP benefits have returned to the standard amount.
The additional funding, which began spring of 2020, was meant to help people who were out of jobs and struggling with income during the pandemic. Despite the seeming end to the pandemic, many households are still struggling to put food on the table – especially with the rising cost of goods, advocates say.
PRISM, an organization with a food shelf in Golden Valley, is fundraising to support its community members with the end of the additional benefits.
On average, households will receive at least $95 a month less, according to the nonpartisan research and policy institute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Some households, who under regular SNAP rules receive low benefits because they have somewhat higher but still modest incomes, will have their benefits reduced by $250 a month or more, the institute estimated.
Who uses SNAP?
About 42 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2022, it helped 435,900 Minnesotans or 8% of the state’s population.
In the last quarter of 2021, the emergency allotments kept 4.2 million people above the poverty line and reduced poverty by 10%, one study found. The estimated reduction in poverty rates was highest for Black and Latino people.
Seventy-nine percent of Minnesota households receiving the benefits in 2020 had income at or below the poverty line, according to the USDA.
“When we think about changes to the SNAP benefits, that will essentially cut grocery budgets for people at a time when quite frankly, food prices are higher than ever,” said Sarah Moberg, the chief operations officer of Second Harvest Heartland. “This is just another hit to folks who may already be struggling.”
Rising demand and rising costs
PRISM has been struggling to keep up with the rising cost of goods, as demand for the food shelf has been increasing, said Michelle Ness, the shelf’s executive director.
Ness anticipates that with the lessening of SNAP benefits, even more people will look to food shelves, as food prices are high at grocery stores.
Second Harvest Heartland agrees that demand for food shelves will go up as a result. The organization purchases food in bulk and sends it out to around 400 agency partners in Minnesota, who then use that to supply various hunger relief programs. Moberg said the distributed pounds of food are up 15% compared to last year.
Over the past few weeks, some of the organization’s partners have experienced a 30% to 50% increase in visits, according to Moberg.
PRISM has around 100-150 households visiting a day and 2,200 on average each month, Ness said. Their numbers have been increasing yearly – just last year, it saw a 69% increase in visits. Each month, Ness says PRISM is seeing 200 new people.
At the same time, purchasing costs for food shelves and organizations like Second Harvest Heartland have also increased.
“Our costs have gone up. Just the same as consumer prices, when those go up, food banks have the same experience. Across the board, what we’re seeing, on average, is that prices are about 20% higher than last year for foods that we need to purchase,” Moberg said.
Milk, for example, has gone up 30 cents on the dollar, she said, while demand for it at food shelves has gone up 40%.
Donations through food rescue programs have also decreased. PRISM is getting around 40% less in food rescue items.
“It might be deli items, breads, all sorts of things that are getting towards their expiration date and grocery stores, they don’t wait until then, they rotate the stock through; so we get it,” Ness said. “That was a lot of what we would give out to families.”
Ness said the organization spends around $35,000 a month to keep the food shelf stocked.
How to help?
PRISM is currently fundraising for the annual statewide Minnesota FoodShare March campaign, which runs until April 9. Its goal is to raise $300,000 in funds and pounds combined.
So far, they’ve seen fewer donations compared to pre-pandemic years. Last year, it recorded a 37% drop in donated food.
Ness said that food shelves often prefer financial donations to food because they can purchase more fresh items, buy in bulk, and curate its stock to different needs and demographics. But food donations are also appreciated, especially items like beans, peanut butter, salmon or tuna, rice, pasta and cereal. PRISM was at around $150,000 in combined funds and pounds at the end of March.
“We just need to keep it stocked. More people coming, less donations and then food costs more and more. It’s kind of this triple whammy,” Ness said. “Our job then is to fundraise, to let people in the community know about what we’re doing.”