Mar 6, 2023 - News

Virginia's coming hunger cliff

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

One of the last remaining major COVID relief programs — the expansion of SNAP benefits, aka food stamps — officially ended March 1, pushing about 32 million Americans off what many are calling a "hunger cliff."

Why it matters: The end of the benefits means nearly 1 million Virginians lost at least $95 a month at a time when grocery prices remain high.

  • Virginians on food assistance — around 10% of the total population —got their last additional distribution Feb. 16.

State of play: The enhanced SNAP benefits were enacted in the first pandemic relief bill in March 2020 and made every SNAP recipient eligible for the program's maximum benefit, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

  • Some households saw benefits go up by $250 or even $500 per month.
  • Those extra benefits kept around 106,000 Virginians out of poverty in 2021, according to a report published last year.

Of note: The additional SNAP benefits were meant to help families experiencing job or wage loss during the pandemic, but they became a way to offset inflation and rising grocery prices.

Local food banks and nonprofits are bracing for or already experiencing an increase in demand.

  • "We expect to see an increase in demand stemming from the end of the Emergency SNAP Allotments, particularly from the elderly and homebound … because many are on a fixed income," Rodrigo Arriaza with Feed More tells Axios.
  • He added that they don't expect to see the full impact until the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Outreach Liberation Church in South Richmond is already seeing twice the usual demand at its food distribution events, per WRIC.

Richmond-based No Kid Hungry Virginia is encouraging parents to apply for free school meals, which it says can save eligible families $11 to $39 a month on groceries.

What's next: Federal grants to help with housing and child care expenses are also expected to run out this year, and a provision to simplify Medicaid enrollment is ending.

  • Yes, but: There are a few new permanent benefits to come out of the COVID era, including a food benefit called Summer EBT that will provide $120 per child when school is out to help with groceries.

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