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From $258 to $23, SNAP recipients will see a major reduction in benefits

Emergency allotments expire at the end of February
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-07 13:47:06-05

BALTIMORE — Marylanders receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, will see a major change in their benefits in March when the federal emergency allotments end in February.

A disabled Maryland woman currently receiving benefits reached out to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii after being informed that her $258 in monthly SNAP benefits will be reduced to just $23.

The pandemic emergency measure started in March 2020. Instead of basing SNAP monthly allotments on household incomes, size, and expenses, recipients were bumped up to the maximum for their household size.

Back then, 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.

“It's going to have huge repercussions for the entire system,” said Michael J. Wilson, director for Maryland Hunger Solutions.

Wilson added that this abrupt change doesn't just hurt those experiencing poverty, but it'll have ripple effects throughout the whole food system.

“We know SNAP recipients are going to be hurt, but we can't pretend that it's just them. Really, grocery stores, farmers markets, farmers, everybody is going to be damaged when you take a billion dollars out of the system,” said Wilson.

The Maryland Department of Human Services has stressed for the last year that these additional benefits were temporary.

"In December 2022, letters were issued to SNAP recipients detailing the temporary emergency allotment supplemental benefit amount and process. In January 2023, letters were mailed, informing customers that the emergency allotments would end following their February 2023 emergency allotment. Additional customer communications continue to be sent to SNAP clients to ensure Marylanders are aware of the forthcoming federal changes," a DHS spokeswoman wrote in an email to Sofastaii.

“A majority of SNAP recipients are seniors, disabled, or children so they can't really make a change in their circumstances on their own. It's going to be a really challenging time for all of them and our state,” Wilson said.

Shawanda Johnson just recently started receiving her benefits. “I have three grown children and they eat a lot,” said Johnson.

Even with SNAP benefits, she tries to stretch every dollar.

“Sometimes, I go to Dollar General and some people are like who shops at Dollar General? I do. So, I get some stuff out of there, their prices went up on some of their stuff too,” Johnson said.

In March, she said she'll do what she's had to in the past to get by.

“What I did was I called the 2-1-1 number and I asked them about the local food pantries in my community,” said Johnson.

Father-daughter duo Brian and Mallory Zimmerman with the Transformation Center are trying to prepare for the anticipated spike in demand.

“We're starting to see that uptick rise the more that people are understanding that their benefits will be cut,” said Mallory Zimmerman, director of operations for the Transformation Center.

They recently acquired a warehouse to stock up whenever they get a donation, but now that other pandemic resources have dried up including a $40 million pandemic grant distributed to Maryland Food Bank partners that ended on December 31, the concern is they won't be able to fulfill the need in their community.

“What’s going to happen six months from now? We don't get the kind of connections that we need, our supply is going to dry up at some point and then what happens when that happens?” asked Brian Zimmerman, executive director of the Transformation Center.

Wilson hopes the legislature will intervene. While the federal minimum is $23, several states have raised their limits with state funds.

In New Jersey, the minimum is $50 and there's currently a bill to raise it to $95.

In D.C., the minimum is up to $30, but new legislation could increase it to 10 percent of the maximum benefit per household size which ranges from $28 to over $250, in addition to the $30 minimum.

And last fall, Maryland's minimum SNAP benefit increased to $30 but only for seniors 62 and older.

Sofastaii contacted Governor Moore's office about this issue. She's waiting to hear back on his availability for an interview on this important topic.

If you're in need of additional food assistance, Maryland 2-1-1 can help you find a local food bank or pantry.

SNAP recipients who are pregnant or have kids can also apply for WIC, the Women, Infants, Children program.

Local food banks and pantries are also seeking donations from anyone in the community. If you’re able to contribute, click here. Or for more information on donating to the Transformation Center, click here.