Early in the pandemic, the federal government provided extra food subsidies to low-income individuals and families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Those fringe benefits, called emergency grants, added at least $95 to each family’s monthly food budget, providing extra help to many families at a time when schools were closed and much of the United States was in lockdown due to the COVID-19.
But those additional benefits will end next month for all families on SNAP, including Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Oklahoma. Congress passed legislation last year ending emergency appropriations nationwide by March.
Eighteen states, including Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Indiana and Iowa, had already run out of extra allotments.
“It just gave us a lot of peace of mind, frankly, a lot of cushion,” Iowa City resident Cecilia Proffit said 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 for four people last longer.
“Stress increases,” she said. “You start thinking again ‘how long can I make a liter of milk last? What do I do if my children don’t eat it?’ The mental load just gets much heavier.
Proffit’s story paints the stark reality people in the program’s remaining states will face when the extra benefits end next month.
In Oklahoma, approximately 300,000 families and nearly 800,000 individuals receive SNAP benefits, said Deborah Smith, director of adult and family services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Smith said people likely came to depend on their increased food budget after nearly three years.
“With emergency gardens ending after this time frame, there’s no question that there will be many families who will struggle with this transition,” she said.
Smith’s department is trying to raise awareness that the extra benefits will end soon. Employees used social media and sent emails to notify residents.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 41 million people receive subsidies through SNAP. But those benefits “aren’t very generous to begin with,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America.
When emergency gardens end across the country, Gremillion expects food pantries and other charities will come under additional pressure to help meet the need for families whose food budgets dwindle.
“It’s going to be a really big deal for families receiving SNAP benefits,” she said.
Also, the move comes at a time when food is costing more due to inflation.
With higher prices at the supermarket, low-income people “simply can’t afford the food they need,” said Joel Berg, chief executive of advocacy organization Hunger Free America.
He expects that when the extra benefits run out, people won’t be able to buy as much or healthy food.
“When you take it 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. He reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM.