CLEVELAND — Throughout the pandemic, recipients of SNAP — or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — received emergency allotments meant to combat food insecurity. However, in March, those benefits came to an end, with participants going back to receiving their base allotment.
According to the USDA, more than 41 million Americans receive SNAP benefits. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank says due to the loss of the emergency allotments, SNAP households will lose at least $95 in monthly benefits, with some affected even more.
Tiffany Scruggs, vice president of client services at the food bank, says one in five people in Cuyahoga County don't know where their next meal will come from. That number rises to one in three in Cleveland proper, and Scruggs saw the impact the emergency allotments had on recipients.
"We actually saw households achieve food security," she said, "which means they actually knew where their next meal was coming from."
Scruggs explained that oftentimes, SNAP is supplemental for households, and recipients are eligible for SNAP benefits based on federal poverty guidelines. The exact amount takes into account income and household size, with seniors' benefits also dependent on other calculations such as medical expenses.
During the pandemic, SNAP recipients received the emergency allotments at the end of the month, typically around the 27th or 28th day.
"We are concerned because that benefit went away as of the end of February," Scruggs noted. "Actually, this week is the first week that households in Ohio would not receive that additional benefit, so we're kind of waiting to see what the impact will be in terms of increased needs as we've learned from other food banks whose states have already enacted this policy change."
Scruggs said that the food bank has seen a 10% increase in people served through their feeding partner network over the past year, and they are anticipating even more demand for food in the coming months.
Nicole Lawrence is a single working mom who lives in Cleveland. She has three children of her own, and has taken in six of her nieces and nephews. As a SNAP recipient, the emergency allotments made a big difference for her family
"Definitely with the cost of living and everything going up, that was just, like, right on time assistance, you know, just to give you that relief that you can feed your children," Lawrence said. "When you have that extra cushion, it gives you the leeway to know that my card is at zero right now, but let's say a few days from now, my card will load with the extra benefits, and now I can go shopping again."
Now, Lawrence is getting creative, researching different resources and groups that distribute food and sharing that information with fellow families at her children's school who may also need support.
"Now, I have to strategize different ways to adapt," she explained, "to fill in the blanks for those benefits that have been taken away from the household."
Scruggs emphasizes there are resources available for those who may need additional support. For example, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank has a help center and hotline, and there are also other organizations such as 211 that work to connect people with resources.