COVID-19 emergency SNAP benefits to end in March – Santa Fe New Mexican


Santa Fe resident E.V. McKay has been expecting his federal food aid to decrease for months.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, McKay’s two-person household — whose income is a combination of disability, Social Security and other federal benefits — has received about $300 more per month through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, thanks to emergency allotments intended to combat pandemic-related hunger.
When the additional aid kicked in, McKay said, he could purchase healthy food items for the first time in about a decade of receiving food stamps without worrying so much about the often higher price tags of produce. The extra SNAP money made the difference between a diet of packaged ramen and canned beans and a diet including salads, fresh fruit and vegetables.
The day McKay has dreaded will arrive in March.
February 2023 will be the final month of SNAP emergency allotments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service announced.
For McKay’s family — whose SNAP-subsidized food budget is expected to shrink by $339 per month in March, down to just $177 — it will be a devastating blow.
“That loss is going to be, at this time, immeasurable. It’s going to have a very deep impact on our ability to survive,” he said.
More than 500,000 New Mexicans are SNAP customers, said Marina Piña, a spokeswoman for the state Human Services Department, which administrates food assistance programs.
Nearly 7,500 households in Santa Fe County receive SNAP benefits, according to the Santa Fe Data Platform, a local public-private data collection project. In some parts of Santa Fe County, the percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits exceeds 30%.
The pandemic-era boost in SNAP benefits stems from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a federal law authorizing an additional $2 billion a month in SNAP funding to be disbursed across all 50 states and three territories.
“These are unprecedented times for American families who are facing joblessness and hunger,” then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release announcing the relief program. “USDA is providing a 40% increase in SNAP benefits to ensure that low-income individuals have enough food to feed themselves and their families during this national emergency.”
Congress did not make an appropriation in the 2023 federal budget for continued SNAP emergency allotments and set the sunset date for the aid in February 2023.
The New Mexico Human Services Department is preparing to inform SNAP customers of the change, Piña said in an email Monday. Starting the first week of February, the department will send out letters and texts to SNAP recipients, alerting them of the decrease in benefits.
“The letter also states specific case information for families to know exactly what their SNAP benefit amount will be starting in March 2023 and the date of the month their benefits will be deposited into their EBT cards,” Piña wrote in an email.
McKay worries about how the decrease in SNAP benefits will impact his family and others.
Despite larger-than-usual cost of living adjustments to SNAP and Social Security income, careful coupon clipping and living in a van to avoid high rent and utility costs, McKay’s purse strings have grown tighter and tighter these past few years. The cost of living is outpacing income, he said.
“With inflation the way it is, the cost of living being out of control and no balance to properly offset the cost of living increases, I have a lot of concerns for the people that live in New Mexico. I really do,” he said.
The letter informing families of the changes to their SNAP benefits can’t come soon enough, McKay said: “People need every minute possible to prepare.”
McKay would have liked earlier notice of the impending change in SNAP benefits, but he said he can’t entirely fault the Human Services Department. The rules are changing under the agency’s feet, too, he noted.
He cautioned New Mexicans receiving SNAP benefits to make the necessary preparations to ensure they can withstand the decrease in income and to keep elected officials — particularly congressional delegates — informed about how the change will affect their families.
“There’s only so much the state alone can do,” McKay said. “The infighting in the government — our federal government — is actually blowing up a smokescreen that’s making them turn a blind eye to the people suffering not only here in New Mexico but across the U.S.”
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