Coloradans to lose pandemic era SNAP benefits this month
Mountain Family Center prepares for increased need for their food pantries
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Mountain Family Center food pantry in Kremmling is busy. A food pantry employee prepares boxes of groceries as a line of residents wait to receive their food. Almost every person asks for milk, eggs, cheese and meat – staples that have grown more expensive at the grocery store.
With inflation hitting rural areas like Grand County particularly hard this year, residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will receive less money for groceries beginning March 1.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government issued temporary additional benefit amounts (or emergency allotments) that increased people’s benefits to the maximum amount. If households were already at the maximum amount, they received an extra $95 a month. For example, a typical family of four received $680 a month. Due to a congressional action in December 2022, SNAP allotments will now return to individuals’ normal benefit amount based on income and expenses.
Experts at the Food Research & Action Center state that this March, the nation will face a hunger cliff – a sharp increase in the number of people who experience food insecurity.
SNAP cutbacks in the midst of inflation
According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, approximately 289,000 households, or 554,000 individuals, rely on SNAP to keep their kitchens stocked. To qualify for SNAP, a household must have a gross annual income within 130% of the poverty level – $18,954 for an individual or $39,000 for a family of four. For those on a fixed income, including seniors, disabled individuals and unemployed individuals, the extra money they have been receiving for the past three years went a long way.
Individuals will experience of reduction of about $90 per month, or $360 for a family of four. On average, SNAP benefits will now be $6.10 per person per day after the emergency allotments expire says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That average daily benefit is higher than it was in 2021, due to cost-of-living increases and adjustments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan. But in areas like Grand County where eggs average $4 a carton and milk $4 a gallon at City Market, $6.10 does not go far.
Residents will have to rely on other means than SNAP to keep food on the table, such as food banks. However, the expiration of SNAP benefits come at a time when organizations such as Food Bank of the Rockies are paying more for groceries, just as individuals are.
“Record-high inflation rates coupled with the need for food in our community being higher than pre-COVID levels has led to Food Bank of the Rockies spending more than three-times as much money per month to purchase food as we were before the pandemic to provide our neighbors with the food they need,” the organization stated in a February newsletter.
According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, food prices are at least 12% higher this year than they were in 2022.
“With the Colorado SNAP emergency allotment benefits ending on March 1, 2023, we anticipate that we will be purchasing up to 20% more food every month to keep up with even more demand,” Food Bank of the Rockies wrote.
The Food Bank provides Mountain Family Center with meat, fruit and shelf stable groceries every month. The center then offers these items at their two food pantries in Granby and Kremmling. Lately, Food Bank of the Rockies’ trucks are arriving at Mountain Family Center with less groceries than before.
Mountain Family Center also purchases groceries for their pantries from City Market, which helps fill gaps from Food Bank of Rockies. Additional groceries are provided by community donations.
“In January, we spent over $12,000 on groceries,” said Helen Sedlar, executive director of the Mountain Family Center. “We’re typically spending $10,000 to $12,000 a month. Before Covid, we were spending $2,500 to $3,000 a month.”
More residents in need of food assistance
These extra thousands of dollars per month are the result of not only increased food costs, but increased community need over the past year, Sedlar said.
This year, more children have signed up for Mountain Family’s Totes program. The program offers weekly totes, or bags of snacks and ready-to-make meals, for children 18 and under who face food insecurity. Kids pick up totes at schools or libraries before the weekend. In 2021, Mountain Family distributed 24,800 totes; in 2022, they distributed 30,000. This year, they are on track to deliver nearly 37,000 totes.
Food pantry visitation is also higher now than it was in 2020, “and that was during a pandemic and the (East Troublesome) wildfire,” Sedlar said.
In 2020, there were 9,053 visits to the food pantry. There were 8,478 visits in 2021 and 11,149 in 2022. In January 2023, Mountain Family counted 912 visits to the pantry. The nonprofit is expecting even more visits after residents lose extra SNAP benefits this month.
Sedlar explained residents are struggling under the burden of inflation, whether they are putting gas in their car or purchasing groceries. She added that recent circumstances, such as the avian flu increasing the cost of eggs, have added to the burden.
Seniors to experience the steepest drop in benefits
Senior citizens who are on a fixed income will be especially hard hit by SNAP reductions. According to the Food Research and Action Center, older adults at the minimum benefit level will have their monthly benefits fall from nearly $300 a month to $23.
Before the pandemic, the minimum amount a one or two-member household could receive under SNAP was $23. Many seniors on social security also received $23 a month in benefits.
Susan Doherty, a senior who visits the Kremmling food pantry, said that while the reduction in benefits will be a struggle, she is thankful the SNAP program exists.
“I don’t want to say that it’s not enough,” she said. “I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m grateful for what there is.”
Paul Schuh and his wife Susan Kirkoff also visit the Kremmling food pantry. They live in a senior living facility and receive a small amount of social security income each month.
“We’re on a very fixed income … we go to City Market and (the money) is just gone. And there’s not a lot of food we’re bringing home,” Schuh said. “These prices, that’s the biggest problem, I would say. This inflation is horrible.”
Schuh added that the Kremmling pantry has helped him and Kirkoff keep the kitchen stocked.
“It’s been a big help. Getting the milk, eggs, cheese, butter — the staple items,” he said. “Those are very important. We really appreciate that.”
Schuh added that the federal government has approved an 8.7% social security increase, but the extra income is a wash. Because their rent is based on income, once their social security payments increase, their cost of living does too.
“The government giveth, but then the government taketh away,” he said.
What can residents do?
Since the end of emergency allotments is based on federal action, people can’t appeal this decision. However, DeAnna Jones, the operations manager and SNAP coordinator at Mountain Family, is available to help. People can make an appointment with her if they have questions or need to recertify SNAP benefits. She recommends that people recertify if their income or number of people in the household has changed, or if they have new expenses, such as medical bills.
Residents can meet Jones at Mountain Family Center in Granby, the Kremmling food pantry, or local libraries.
“I can go where it’s convenient for them, because fuel has gone up, rent has gone up,” she said.
Residents can also sign up for other programs through Mountain Family Center. Women who are pregnant or have young children can benefit from WIC, a supplemental nutrition program. Seniors may be eligible for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which offers a box of groceries each month. PEAK (the Program Eligibility and Application Kit) is another tool. Residents can visit the Colorado PEAK Force website to see what assistance programs they qualify for.
Currently, legislators are also negotiating the 2023 Farm Bill. This bill determines whether SNAP will suffer cutbacks or provide increases for individuals who depend on it to feed themselves and their families.
*Editor’s note: The reporter of this story works at Mountain Family Center as a community programs coordinator.
- Avoid more expensive packaged foods, especially in the produce aisle. Substitute precut pineapple for the whole fruit, or a bag of salad mix for a head of lettuce.
- Freeze food and leftovers so they last longer. Buy items on sale in bulk and store them in the freezer.
- Groceries stores normally place more expensive item on the middle shelf where they are easy to grab (known as “eye level is buy level” in store product placement). Less expensive items, including items that aren’t name-brand, can be found on the bottom and top shelves.
- City Market and Safeway both include sections of marked down items, including breads and pastries that are reaching their best by dates but are good to consume a few days to a week after.
- When comparing the prices of similar items, always look at the unit price, not the retail price. The unit price accurately reflects the cost of item based on its weight. The retail price simply means what the product costs at the register.
- Fast food restaurants are no longer cheap. A worker on their lunch break or a family looking for a quick meal can spend more than they intended.
- For those who have the time, make items instead of buying them, such as bread, pancake mix, beans and rice.
- Canned goods and staples such as peanut butter, apples, bananas, rice, beans, lentils and potatoes are affordable and versatile. A rice cooker or crockpot is a valuable investment. Rice and beans eaten together form a complete protein and are an affordable alternative to meat.
To contact Mountain Family Center for assistance, call 970-557-3186. The Granby pantry is open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m.-noon. The Kremmling pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. During this time of heightened community need, Mountain Family Center also welcomes monetary donations or food donations to their pantries.
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