Temporary federal assistance, offered to millions of Americans to alleviate financial insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, will trickle to an end in many states at the end of February. As supplemental emergency allotments (EAs) are pulled from the household budgets of those acquiring food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)(Opens in a new tab), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, gap-filling hunger relief organizations are preparing to step in — all while food prices continue to rise(Opens in a new tab).

Effective March 1, SNAP beneficiaries will no longer receive additional allotments made available by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act(Opens in a new tab), which let states waive household and income requirements to give recipients the maximum SNAP benefit for their family size. By April 2021, all participating SNAP households were guaranteed a monthly increase of at least $95 — a significant boost to the normally adjusted baseline SNAP allocations which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP),(Opens in a new tab) will average $186 per person per month (or $6.10 a day) in 2023. The CBPP estimates the average person’s SNAP allocation will be reduced by about $90 a month(Opens in a new tab), with some households seeing monthly reductions of $250 or more.

The 2023 discontinuation comes following the December passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023(Opens in a new tab), which expedited the termination of the EAs by decoupling the emergency allotments(Opens in a new tab) from the federal government’s COVID public health emergency declaration, not slated to expire until May. In what some advocates called a financing trade-off,(Opens in a new tab) the proposal also made permanent an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program(Opens in a new tab) to provide food assistance to eligible families with school-age children during the summer months, funded in part through the earlier termination of the temporary emergency SNAP allotments.

The March 1 cutoff is expected to impact 30 million people across the 32 states where the emergency allotments haven’t already expired(Opens in a new tab).

While the SNAP allotments were a temporary solution to extreme need during a global shutdown, the additional financial help has made a measurable difference in the lives of those below the poverty line. In 2022, nonprofit research organization Urban Institute(Opens in a new tab) published a study on the effect of COVID-19 EAs (and changes to the government’s Thrifty Food Plan [TFP](Opens in a new tab), used to evaluate costs of a healthy diet) on SNAP benefits and associated poverty. 

The organization estimates that at least 4.2 million people were kept out of poverty(Opens in a new tab) in just the last three months of 2021 because of the emergency assistance, which totaled $3.6 billion per month. The number of Americans facing what is known as deep poverty, with a household income at less than half of the federal poverty threshold, decreased by 6.2 percent, and the number of children below the poverty line — a household income of $30,000 for a family of four for 2023(Opens in a new tab) in most states — fell by 14 percent. The study also found that the emergency allotments affected poverty levels in Black households more than any other group, lowering them by 13 percent. 

Based on figures like these, anti-hunger advocates say the loss of EAs could leave millions of Americans with diminished household budgets and even deeper food insecurity. 

Emergency food responses are preparing for overload

In response, hunger relief organizations like local food pantries, national food banks, and community kitchens are preparing for long lines and increased demand(Opens in a new tab) from the growing populations they serve. Following a steady decrease in participants(Opens in a new tab) until 2019, the SNAP program saw a sharp increase in 2020, from around 35 million recipients to 39 million. In 2022, that number had reached 41 million SNAP beneficiaries.   

These organizations, like New York-based food rescue nonprofit City Harvest(Opens in a new tab), anticipate greater use of free food opportunities such as food pantries, mobile food units, and mutual aid-based programs like community fridges (also known as “freedges”). 

Food banks are working to ramp up their supplies with the support of donors, and many of them, like the Food Bank for New York City(Opens in a new tab), are also providing administrative guidance for SNAP beneficiaries set to lose a significant portion of their funds. 

Online grocery shopping might increase accessibility

Digital options for EBT, which is how the federal benefits are delivered, offer up potential solutions for those in need of greater food assistance. In 2022, with only 100 online retailers offering online payment options for SNAP EBT recipients, tech company Forage stepped in to provide an internet-based payment infrastructure that addressed the demand for accessible SNAP grocery options. Since the technology’s inception, it’s enabled a wider array of SNAP-approved grocers, including its recent collaboration with New York-based The Hub on the Hill(Opens in a new tab), which connects local farms and food producers with community members. 

One of the company’s initial partnerships enabled EBT processing for the grocery delivery giant Instacart. To address the loss of emergency allotments and to support food bank stocks, Instacart announced an expansion of its services(Opens in a new tab) to customers relying on EBT as well as to its Community Carts program(Opens in a new tab), which lets users donate grocery items directly to food banks using the app. 

Four screenshots of the Instacart app. The first shows the Community Carts homepage. The second shows a list of nearby food banks. The third shows the donation page for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. The fourth shows a donation confirmation screen.

Credit: Instacart

Starting March 1, Instacart users will also be able to donate food to Feeding America member food banks(Opens in a new tab) in 31 of the states where benefits are set to expire, as well as to 24 food banks serving people in 16 states where emergency allotments have already expired. In total, the expanded Community Carts program lets users donate to more than 120 community food banks across 47 states, without any service or delivery fees.

In addition, anyone using a EBT SNAP card on the app is now eligible for a reduced annual Instacart+(Opens in a new tab) membership, a 50 percent discount at $4.99 per month. 

Other online retailers, like Target and midwestern grocery chain Meijer, are expanding their options for SNAP recipients(Opens in a new tab), as well. Target now lets online and in-app customers (in all states except Alaska) use EBT cards at checkout(Opens in a new tab) for SNAP-eligible groceries. Meijer also instituted a 10 percent in-store produce discount(Opens in a new tab) for SNAP customers, and accepts SNAP payments for online and delivery orders.

A new version of SNAP is up for debate

At the same moment many SNAP-eligible people lose access to this bolstered food budget, congressional lawmakers hold the fate of food assistance in their hands(Opens in a new tab)

In early February, House Republicans Matt Gaetz (Florida), Ralph Norman (South Carolina), Andy Biggs (Arizona), Dan Bishop (North Carolina), and Lauren Boebert (Colorado) sent an open letter to President Joe Biden(Opens in a new tab) asking for the reinstatement of stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients, effectively creating greater restrictions on aid. The letter argued such limits would incentivize “able-bodied people to return to the workforce” and “prevent the condemnation of SNAP beneficiaries to a life of dependency.” It’s one part of a GOP-led movement for more cost cutting across federal policy.

A week later, the Senate Agriculture Committee began hearing the 2023 Farm Bill(Opens in a new tab), which will establish the parameters of federal nutrition assistance programs. State legislatures are also in the midst of heavy debate(Opens in a new tab) about their own SNAP restrictions(Opens in a new tab).

With equity and anti-poverty groups organizing against restricted access to these resources across the nation, filling gaps in nutrition assistance is yet another urgent call to action.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages SNAP recipients seeking additional information on how these changes will impact them to contact their local SNAP office(Opens in a new tab) or the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY / 1-877-8-HAMBRE.

UPDATE: Feb. 25, 2023, 10:38 a.m. EST This story has been updated with additional information on resources available to SNAP recipients.


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