Thousands of Monroe County residents set to lose extra SNAP benefits
Roughly 62,000 Monroe County families are a month away from a substantial decrease in federal food assistance benefits as a federal pandemic relief program sunsets.
Most of those households will lose between $95 and $200 a month in SNAP benefits starting in March, according to local social services providers, several of whom gathered Thursday at the Public Market for a news conference held to bring attention to the coming change.
“There’s a lot less money to put food on the table and a lot more community members who are struggling with food insecurity already,” said Thalia Wright, Monroe County’s human services commissioner. “So this will just increase that struggle once this change takes effect.”
In 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provided a long list of additional benefits and waivers intended to help people weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief package included additional monthly "Emergency Allotments” to SNAP recipients.
At the end of last year, Congress approved legislation directing an end to the additional benefits after February’s payments.
Mitch Gruber, chief programs officer for Foodlink, said the timing is terrible, given the skyrocketing cost of groceries.
“It’s incredibly disappointing and we should be able to do better,” Gruber said. “And hopefully, at some point, we’ll have a Congress that’s going to invest in the right things like the child tax credit, like the SNAP program. In the meantime, what we have to do as a community is figure out how to respond.”
The speakers at the news conference said they are worried that many SNAP recipients don’t know that their additional benefits are ending, which leaves them vulnerable to a financial shock.
The county and local nonprofits -- including Causewave Community Partners, Foodlink, the United Way of Greater Rochester and Goodwill of the Finger Lakes -- have launched a website, SNAP585.org, to serve as a resource for SNAP recipients.
The site includes recommended steps that recipients can take to prepare for and blunt the loss of the additional food assistance, including:
- Checking with the state to find out what your benefits will be going forward.
- Shopping at places such as the Public Market, Foodlink’s Curbside Market, some farmers markets, and Abundance Food Co-Op, which provide matching programs that help SNAP dollars go further.
- Checking to see if you qualify for additional public assistance programs, including discount high-speed internet service, to help cover the lost benefits.
It’s not just SNAP recipients who face losing benefits they received throughout the pandemic. The White House announced earlier this week that President Biden intends on ending the federal COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11.
That will affect some health care benefits, including COVID-19 testing and treatment, which will no longer be free. Vaccinations will remain free.
Ann Marie Cook, president and CEO of Lifespan, a nonprofit that serves older adults and caregivers, said she’s worried that the declaration will cause confusion for people.
“I'm grateful that we have kind of 60 days to look at this, figure out who it impacts and try to get information out to people. But I think for many people, it'll be a surprise and we're concerned about them.”
Cook says about a third of the people Lifespan serves use Medicare. Many of them also get SNAP benefits to pay for food, and they’ll face the upcoming benefits cut.
During Thursday’s news conference at the Public Market, 211 / LIFE LINE director Deb Turner encouraged anyone who needs help securing resources to call 211 or text 898211.