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"Hunger cliff" looms as 32 states are set to cut food-stamp benefits

Temporary SNAP benefits boost expires March 1
Food banks brace for end to pandemic-era SNAP benefits boost 06:16

A "hunger cliff" is looming for millions of Americans, with 32 states set to slash food-stamp benefits beginning on Wednesday.

The cuts will impact more than 30 million people who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in those states, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among the states where recipients are facing cuts are California and Texas, which have greatest number of people on SNAP, at 5.1 million and 3.6 million, respectively. 

The reductions, set to begin in March, are due to the end of so-called emergency allotments, which bolstered food-stamp benefits at the start of the pandemic as Americans grappled with the massive disruption to the economy. While the U.S. is certainly on more stable footing than in 2020, households are now struggling with high food costs. Groceries were about 11.3% higher in January than a year earlier — making the timing of the SNAP cuts particularly challenging, experts say.

"This hunger cliff is coming to the vast majority of states, and people will on average lose about $82 of SNAP benefits a month," said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research & Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group. "That is a stunning number."

That means a family of four could see their monthly benefit cut by about $328 a month. The worst-hit could be elderly Americans who receive the minimum monthly benefit, Vollinger said. They could see their SNAP payments tumble from $281 to as little as $23 per month.

Meanwhile, 18 states had already ended their emergency allotments early, with some citing the strengthening economy as the reason. In states like Georgia that have cut nutritional aid, however, food banks have seen a surge in demand as a result, according to Pew Stateline.

"Like many food banks across the country, we are experiencing that lines are getting longer," Kyle Waide, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, told CBS News. "We've seen a 40% increase to our network over the last 15 months."

The remaining 32 states that had continued the additional aid are losing that extra money in March due to a provision in the 2023 Omnibus spending bill, signed into law in December, that directs the emergency allotments to end next month. 

"[T]his will increase demand at food pantries all across the country," Waide predicted.

More than 40 million on food-stamps

Despite the rebounding economy, many Americans continue to struggle with food insecurity, experts say. Food-stamp enrollment remains high, with 42 million people receiving the benefit in November 2022, the most recent data available, or about 6% higher than in 2020, according to USDA data. 

The impact hunger can have on a child’s education, mental health 03:33

It may seem like an oddity that SNAP enrollment has increased given that the nation's unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969, but many workers still can't find full-time work or line up enough hours to pay the bills, Vollinger noted. Most working-age people who receive food stamps are employed, research has found.

"What sometimes gets missed in that conversation is the part that so many SNAP households are employed, but often employed at low-wage levels — they aren't in jobs that are family-sustaining so they still qualify for SNAP," she added. 

"Bracing for it"

Because the food-stamp cuts were signed into law only in December, neither states nor individuals had much time to prepare, critics say. One food-stamp recipient in Colorado tweeted that she was sent "tips" from the state on how to cope, such as by stocking up on nonperishable food while she still has a higher benefit amount.

"We are reducing your food stamps and we know you will have a hard time surviving so here are some tips — don't say we didn't ever do nothing for you," she wrote sarcastically using laughter emojis. 

Meanwhile, food banks say they are expecting an increase in demand as food aid is slashed.

"People are having to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent," Erin Pulling, CEO of Food Bank of the Rockies, told CBS Colorado. "We are seeing more people than ever needing help with food assistance."

Of the food stamp cuts, Pulling said, "We're bracing for it."

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