The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, is the federal government’s largest program for fighting hunger and food insecurity, serving roughly 41 million people nationwide in 2022. Historically, SNAP monthly allotments were based on household incomes and size. A majority of SNAP recipients are seniors, disabled, or children who can’t really make a change in their circumstances on their own.
In March 2020, Congress passed a coronavirus response law that temporarily increased the amount of financial assistance people in the program received. As of March 1, 2023, the program will no longer issue those additional benefits, called Emergency Allotments (EA). That means that monthly SNAP benefits will return to levels based on their income and household size.
The end of a pandemic-era expansion of SNAP benefits could leave thousands of our neighbors struggling to eat affordably at a time when inflation has driven grocery prices sharply higher.
In 2020, when the pandemic emergency measure started, eggs cost $1.50, milk cost $3.25, and bread cost consumers $1.37, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of December 2022, all three items cost more. Eggs climbed to $4.25, milk to $4.21, and bread to $1.87 with a nearly 15 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index.
And yet, starting in March, 600,000 Maryland families will have on average $170 less a month to afford groceries, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.
Last fall, Maryland’s minimum SNAP benefit increased to $30 but only for seniors 62 and older. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), households that had received the extra boost will experience a deduction of at least $95 a month; while some lower income larger households will see reductions of $250 a month or more.
Household size Average SNAP EA Decrease Impact
This abrupt change doesn’t just hurt those experiencing food insecurity, but will have ripple effects throughout the entire food system. Grocery stores, farmers markets, farmers, will all be hurt when there is a billion dollars less in the system.
Two things Maryland residents can do to ease the extent of this crisis are:
- Advocate for state funding to create a tapered decrease in this Emergency Allotment funding. States like New Jersey and Massachusetts have created these tapered decreases, referred to as “offramps”, to gradually decrease the benefit amount over three months, instead of as one abrupt 100% cut.
- Support local food assistance programs like Tommy’s Pantry.