SNAP emergency food benefits will expire in September. What there is to know.
Addressing food security in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic came with a multibillion dollar price tag for public benefits such as food stamps and unemployment insurance.
Now, additional aid through the federal food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is due to expire at the end of September, raising concern among beneficiaries and advocates.
Additional payments are a minimum of $ 95 per month, helping 1.6 million income-eligible households in New York City. But it is expected to expire at the end of next month if Congress does not extend it further.
Marisol Morales, a native of the Bronx and frequent patron of the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, said the increased benefits – and the incentives that Grow NYC offers to encourage people to buy fresh food – have contributed a lot to the overall food price. . increased this year.
“When the pandemic started, (the Greenmarket) was closed… so I had to buy from the supermarket, but because of the pandemic the prices went up,” Morales said. “I was browsing the SNAP benefits. “
Morales was not alone. The sudden rise in unemployment due to the pandemic has increased New Yorkers’ reliance on food stamps, forcing food producers and local officials responsible for administering the program to adapt to the changing nature of the national emergency.
In the short term, New York announced on July 13 that low-income residents would continue to receive aid beyond July, which has totaled more than $ 2.5 billion since March 2020.
Regular benefits can range from $ 204 per month for a person with an annual gross income of less than $ 16,596 to $ 680 per month for a family of four with an income of less than $ 34,068.
Vendors felt the shift in benefits and unemployment during the pandemic.
“At our peak three years ago, we had sales of approximately $ 1 million; now it’s grown to $ 663,000, ”said Margaret O’Neill, program director of the Friends of the Rochester Public Market, which helps SNAP beneficiaries buy food at the popular spot.
O’Neill said the virus may have prevented some SNAP users from visiting the market in 2020, despite an overall increase in spending due to increased allowances.
If emergency benefits were to drop after September, that would likely mean that a drop in spending by SNAP beneficiaries has skyrocketed benefits during the pandemic, records show.
Annual spending on SNAP benefits, according to the state’s Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, was close to $ 5.7 billion in 2020, up from $ 5.7 billion in 2019, according to state data. .
This increase, in fact, reversed a six-year downward trend in benefit recipients, likely due to a strong economy during that time.
OTDA reported that 2.8 million New Yorkers received benefits last year. The majority of them, 1.6 million, resided in New York.
Here is a breakdown across the state:
- The largest concentration of SNAP recipients in New York after New York was in the counties of Erie (142,803), Monroe (107,968) and Suffolk (96,516); in total, NYC and the three counties received $ 4.1 billion in SNAP 2020 benefits.
- The number of residents receiving SNAP benefits in Broome, Dutchess, Onondaga and Orange counties in 2020 was 26,095, 17,624, 65,930 and 38,658, respectively.
- New Yorkers living in the immediate suburbs of New York – Long Island, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties – received $ 529 million in SNAP benefits in 2020.
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Addressing food insecurity in New York
The New York City Department of Social Services-Human Resources Administration received 152,244 additional requests for SNAP benefits from March 2020 to December, an increase of 55% over that period.
Ian Martin, the agency’s spokesperson, said the volume of SNAP claims is slightly above normal pre-pandemic rates and that “the total number of SNAP cases in New York City has continued to increase. , and today there are about 16% more cases receiving SNAP benefits compared to February 2020. “
Darcie Miller, the commissioner of the Orange County Social Services Department, said she warned that the expiration of improved benefits in September would hamper food security.
“We are all prisoners of the economy,” she said. “Despite the benefits of SNAP and the support households get from it, we recognize that there are still people who are food insecure.”
Unlike most counties in New York City, Orange County experienced a decline in pre-pandemic SNAP registrations through April 2021.
But county officials have warned that SNAP’s benefits have diminished slightly, that doesn’t mean residents aren’t asking for government help.
Scott Imhof, the county welfare examiner, said more of the county’s resources are being used to tackle food insecurity during the pandemic – not just through food stamps.
“We are using our 311 crisis call center to connect people to pantries; the Office for Aging has delivered more meals than ever for those who are eligible for their food program. We have given three emergency benefits to the Hudson Valley Food Bank to make sure the pantries had enough food to distribute, ”Miller said.
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SNAP and rising food prices
Part of the concerns of low-income people during the pandemic is rising consumer costs, which has diminished their purchasing power, experts and retailers have said.
Inflation therefore reduced the benefit of SNAP and unemployment benefits.
“The inflation is due to what happened during the pandemic,” said Kevin Datthyn, Rochester Public Market vendor and owner of Abe Datthyn Farms in Sodus, Wayne County.
“People were off work and factories were closed and not making parts, so supply chains were disrupted.”
As the number of sales at the Rochester Public Market declined during the pandemic, Datthyn said grocery store sales have increased and now people are paying more for their products.
The problem of inflation has been pointed out by federal agencies.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, reported that the Consumer Price Index, a measure used to track percentage changes in consumer prices for goods and services, increased 5% in all since May 2020.
The office said the increase from May 2020 to May 2021 is the largest 12-month gain since August 2008, which was at the end of the recession.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, estimated that the cost of household items, such as beef and veal, rose 9 percent in all U.S. cities in 2020, while the price of fresh fruit and pork increased by 6% and 5%. respectively, from April 2020 to April 2021.
The rating agency Fitch Ratings expects an estimated increase in inflation of 4% in 2021, a figure confirmed by the latest data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
At the Manhattan Greenmarket, Morales said rising food prices and the size of the maximum allowance at the start of the pandemic forced her and her daughter to scavenge for food in pantries. from New York.
The second-generation Puerto Rican said she has been receiving SNAP benefits since a work-related injury forced her to stop working more than five years ago and has been an intern at a center for the elderly in the Bronx.
“I pray to God that my current internship turns into a full-time job so that I don’t have to continue to depend on the benefits of SNAP,” she said.
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Includes reporting from Sarah Taddeo, staff writer for the New York State team.
Mario Marroquin takes care of real estate and economic development. Click here to see his latest stories. He can be reached at [email protected] or @ mars3vega