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Demand at local food banks spikes as SNAP benefits drop

Courtesy Southern Food Bank of the Southern Tier

In March, millions of people who receive food benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP saw a sharp decrease in the amount they get. Pandemic-era SNAP benefit extensions came to an end, resulting in the loss of up to hundreds of dollars per month for households.

Brent Fox speaks with Randi Quackenbush from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Brent Fox: Since the SNAP benefit extensions ended, have you seen an increase in need for food banks across the region?

Randi Quankenbush: We're going to be taking a look every month to see if we've seen an increase. But overall, we are seeing some of the highest demand for food bank services in our history. It kind of started beginning last year as inflation and gas prices spiked towards the end of the year. We started seeing record numbers, and we're continuing to see that trend. It's very similar to the kind of numbers we saw during the recession. So we anticipate we're going to be watching this closely that will see higher demand for food bank services as the SNAP emergency allotments end and continue to end.

Courtesy of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier

BF: What does it mean for people who were receiving SNAP benefits that the extension has ended?

RQ: So anybody who has been participating in SNAP since the beginning of COVID, has been receiving the maximum allotment, so they've been calling that an emergency allotment. The folks that are gonna be most impacted are seniors, but most seniors were getting about $280 a month. And that has actually been cut down to $23 a month. So that's, you know, $260, that people have been getting monthly for three years to purchase groceries is just gone. Our biggest concern is that folks just don't know that this is happening. The state and a lot of nonprofits have been really trying to get the word out. But we're already hearing some anecdotes of people going to go grocery shopping and going to go buy their food and not having the money on their card and then being surprised and that just being totally unexpected. So overall New York state there's 1.6 million households are impacted by this. And every month, New York state is losing $228 million of federal funds. Those funds are spent in grocery stores. And SNAP is we call it the first line of defense against hunger. It's one of the most effective anti-hunger programs, I think even in the history of the country, even in the world. It's a local economic generator. So those are dollars spent right in local grocery stores. So grocery stores are losing those funds. People obviously are losing those funds. It's really hard for charities like food banks and food pantries to make up any fill in those gaps.

BF: How can places like food banks help those on SNAP?

RQ: We work really closely with SNAP outreach workers that are located in almost every county to ensure someone's coming into a pantry. We try to do referrals to SNAP if they're not receiving it. If they're having any issues with their case, or if they need to update their income or anything like that. Those SNAP referral or caseworkers can kind of assist them with that. So we really ensure that folks know that SNAP is available. And that it offers choice and a lot more dignity and experience that you can spend at the grocery store. If you come into a food pantry, you know items are limited, you can still shop and pick and choose your items. But obviously doesn't have the same amount of variety that you find in a grocery store.

Courtesy of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier

BF: What about needs that aren't food? Where can people get help for those?

RQ: SNAP is only used for food and has to be cold food you can actually purchase like a hot pizza at Wegmans with your SNAP, it has to be non-hot items. And you can't purchase any household items with SNAP. And we have definitely in conversations with our network of pantries and other partners in the region that personal care items are expensive and sometimes out of reach. Basic things like laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, those are items that we try to source to distribute for free throughout our network because we know they're obviously necessary and their price, they're expensive. So folks can get those items for free at a pantry, that frees up their income to pay for other expenses.

Courtesy Food Bank of the Southern Tier

BF: And how has inflation further highlighted the need for relief programs like SNAP?

RQ: I think inflation is easy for everybody to grasp what's happening because we're all experiencing it and feeling it. It's constrained us in our food sourcing and supply chains continue to be tight. But we get free food through the USDA we get donated food through retail partners, but we also purchase wholesale food. And just like anybody else, it's more expensive for us to buy those products. And then sometimes we have to pass on some of those costs to our partners. So overall our dollar is not going as far as it used to and what we're able to source and distribute to the food banking system.

BF: I've been talking with Randy Quackenbush from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Additional resources on SNAP and local food banks:

SNAP Fact Sheet – impacts on NY: https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/SNAP_FRAC_FactSheets_New-York.pdf

OTDA FAQ on SNAP Emergency Allotments expiring: https://otda.ny.gov/SNAP-COVID-19/Frequently-Asked-Questions.asp

Hunger Solutions NY: https://hungersolutionsny.org/federal-nutrition-programs/snap/end-of-snap-ea/

Has been working in public media since 2018. Was a multimedia producer at WNIT in South Bend, Indiana before making his way back to the New York.