Families in the United States are struggling following the end of pandemic-era food benefits.hanger news

Los Angeles, California, USA – About a year ago, a woman named Ana gave birth to a baby boy named Israel after asking to keep her surname hidden.

As Ana said in a recent call with Al Jazeera, she “came through the tough times”. Did.

“During the pandemic, no one could work,” she said. “A lot of people are still looking for jobs and adjusting to things.”

But with the birth of Israel, Ana received much-needed good news. She qualified for the expanded food assistance program implemented by the U.S. government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It really helped,” said Ana. “Really, it was.”

But in December, Congress passed an appropriation bill ending the expanded food benefits known as Emergency Allocations (EA) from February onwards. For households dependent on food aid, the impact is substantial, with $95 to $250 less food benefits per month.

With a baby to feed and groceries now about $100 cheaper than before, Ana said she had to make tough choices on an already tight budget.

“It was a real shock,” she explained. “My son is eating solid food now, but I have to refrain from it because the effects don’t last for a month.”

California food bank employees say their services will be in high demand once government benefit expansion ends [California Association of Food Banks]

first aid

EA was part of a series of programs implemented by the U.S. government in March 2020 to stave off economic instability, with families across the country reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the economy sluggish amid the lockdown and uncertainty about the virus, many worried that the country was on the brink of a severe increase in poverty.

But instead, the opposite happened. Poverty rates have nearly halved from pre-pandemic levels due to expanded government programs to boost unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Increased quotas for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps low-income people buy food, is one such initiative. “These temporary increases have been very successful in stemming hunger and hardship,” said Dottie Rosenbaum, who studies food transfer programs at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It is amazing that food insecurity has stabilized during this time of economic crisis and has actually reached a 20-year low for families with children.”

In the last quarter of 2021, one study estimates that EA lifted more than 4 million people out of poverty in the United States. Also, in states where the program was issued, child poverty was reduced by 14%.

All 50 U.S. states were initially on EA, but by the end of last year, 17 states had ended their pandemic emergency declarations and returned to their previous benefit levels.

However, 32 states continued to offer EA until it ended as a result of the December appropriations bill.

Several factors, such as SNAP’s annual cost-of-living adjustment and an increase in maximum benefits, may ease the difficulties of those receiving food aid. But reality remains grim. Without EA, a SNAP beneficiary will receive an average of about $6.10 per day in 2023.

Becky Silva, director of government relations for the California Food Bank Association, said families should also account for the strain inflation is putting on their finances.

“Food prices are already skyrocketing,” Silva told Al Jazeera by phone. ”

Burden on the food pantry

Workers in food pantries and other community organizations say they are already struggling to meet the high demand from households in need of assistance. Many lack the resources to plug the holes left by the end of emergency benefits.

“Since last fall, we’ve already seen an increase in demand for SLO food bank services, even before emergency quotas ended,” said Andrea Keisler, community program director for food banks in San Luis Obispo County in Central, California. said. Coast told Al Jazeera in her email.

“Now, starting in April, we expect even greater demand for our services.”

According to Stacy Taylor, head of policy and partnerships at tech company Propel, some states ended the EA earlier than others, so businesses could see the impact of losing access to enhanced benefits. already measured. Her company creates software that allows SNAP recipients to track their profits.

California warehouse filled with crates of food for distribution to families in need [California Association of Food Banks]

A January analysis found that people are “visiting the pantry, relying on others for food, eating less, and skipping meals at higher levels in states that don’t issue emergency quotas.” I found what you said.

Many factors can contribute to food insecurity, Taylor said, but EA is an “essential” part of addressing the problem. It gives you more leeway and allows you to pay for other important needs like rent and utilities.

Relying on food pantries and other resources can lead to less flexibility in other ways. Ana said she is lucky to live in a shelter that provides food every day, but food is only available at certain times of the day.

This can make it difficult to find and schedule work, especially for those who have trouble accessing transportation.

“We’re hanging in there,” Ana said. “But everything is so expensive and I’m a single mother. It’s very difficult.”

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