COVID expansion of SNAP benefits expires, hunger and food insecurity likely to rise, says family nutrition expert
Millions of Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase food will have more difficulty doing so. A pandemic-era policy that enhanced SNAP so that participants all received the maximum possible benefits expired March 1. Researchers have estimated that the SNAP emergency allotments kept $4.2 million out of poverty, and with those benefits ending, U.S. poverty rates will rise.
SNAP serves as the nation’s and the state’s largest line of defense against hunger and food insecurity. SNAP, formerly called food stamps, provides cash benefits to purchase food to eligible individuals with low incomes. Elena Serrano, director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Family Nutrition Program, says, “Ending the enhanced benefits will affect households who have the most to lose, those households that qualified for maximum benefits, who will lose an added $95 per month in benefits. On average SNAP participants will lose $82 per month.”
Serrano emphasized that even when enhanced, SNAP was not enough to cover all food expenses and eliminate food insecurity. “SNAP benefits do not close the meal gap. Living costs have outpaced family income and more families, individuals, and seniors are suffering from food insecurity. Food insecurity is hidden. The face of food insecurity is not the face you may picture,” she said.
However, Serrano, said, “There are numerous opportunities to address the increase in food insecurity brought about by this change, and to overcome barriers to participation in nutrition assistance programs.” This includes the following:
- Providing education, such as by the Virginia Cooperative Extension nutrition education programs, to teach skills in food resource management.
- Expanding initiatives that ensure access to affordable, nutritious foods in pantries, faith-based organizations, and schools, including expansion of universal free school meals and summer food.
Refining models for improving community food security, such as gardening programs and food delivery programs, and strengthening programs that connect farms and food producers directly with consumers.
Creating food and health hubs to mutually address food insecurity and other health concerns, including mental health, by coordinating services offered by the Department of Social Services.
Work toward increasing understanding of digital options and limiting predatory scams as online food shopping becomes more common.
For those in need of immediate help, Serrano said, “You can call the free National Hunger Hotline, 1-866-348-6479 (1-866-3-HUNGRY) and the hotline staff can help you find food near where you live. You can call Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. For help during other hours, visit the WhyHunger website, click on Resources and choose Resource Directory from the drop-down menu, then scroll down and click on Get Help.”
Additional resources online include ‘How to Get Food Help,’ a page available in many languages from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, ‘Find Your Local Food Bank’ via Feeding America and ‘Find a Food Pantry’ via FoodFinder.
Elena Serrano serves as the Director of the Virginia Family Nutrition Program within Virginia Cooperative Extension, aimed at promoting food security, dietary quality, and food access among limited resource families. Her work has helped provide statewide leadership for the development, delivery, evaluation, and promotion of a variety of extension education programming. Read her full bio here.
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