The aid was always meant to be temporary, but the end of emergency increases in food stamp benefits will likely boost the number of people suffering “food insufficiency,” a Northwestern University professor who heads the school’s Institute for Policy Research says.
Congressional funding for the pandemic-related program runs out March 1, so Illinois and most other states will stop distributing the extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps. Fourteen other states had already cut back on the benefits.
NU Professor Diane Schanzenbach, who has researched the issue, says that “while the increase was in place, it did some real good. And when it goes away it will do some harm.”
Her study concludes that the emergency help “reduced food insufficiency by approximately 9%.”
So, when the emergency aid goes away, anywhere from $95 to several hundred additional dollars per recipient, depending on family size, will go away as well.
In states that ended additional benefits early, Schanzenbach says, about one in ten recipients faced “not having enough to eat” in a particular week.
The professor is also on the board of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which helps provide supplies for food banks, including those in Evanston.
She said the Depository is telling food banks to “be prepared. We’re expecting a new influx” of people needing assistance.
The end of emergency benefits means SNAP benefits will once again be based on a formula solely related to family size and income. Before the emergency aid, Schanzenbach says, the average SNAP benefit for a family of two was $229 per month.
Eligibility is restricted to those earning 130% of the poverty level or less. In Evanston, the most recent census figures show 11.9% of residents living at or below the poverty line.
The extra federal SNAP dollars will be transferred to a summer food program for children, but because that program already existed, the transfer is simply a different way to pay for that program, not additional money.
While it may be easy to say those getting additional SNAP dollars should have known the extra aid would end along with the COVID emergency, Schanzenbach says families with children will see about a 30% decrease in their monthly assistance, quite a jolt.
“This is tough,” she notes.
“It was always temporary, but when we provide resources to low income families and then take this away, some people may be plunged into hardship.”
And Schanzenbach says one of her greatest fears is that some recipients may not get the word about the reductions.
“The worst thing,” she says, “is that a person may learn about their benefits being cut while in line at the grocery store,” buying food for the kids.