Hunger advocates are raising concerns over food insecurity in Maryland following the end of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) emergency allotments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that food price inflation continues, with the most recent data showing food prices 9.5% higher than a year ago.
In March, SNAP benefits returned to their pre-pandemic level, with the average benefit falling back to $6 per person per day. This reduction in federal support will affect over 360,000 households in the state and will have an economic impact of nearly $700 million for the year, according to data from the Food Research and Action Center.
Michael J. Wilson, director of the non-profit Maryland Hunger Solutions, warned that the cuts will be felt throughout the entire food system, impacting not only low-income families but also grocery stores, farmers markets, corner stores, and the agricultural sector.
“The impact on the entire food system is also going to be negative,” said Wilson. “It could have economic impacts that affect employment, affect jobs, and affect hours. Everything we can do to help alleviate poverty helps in all of the food and nutrition programs.”
Feeding America estimates that SNAP provides nine times as many meals as food banks, making it a crucial program for low-income families. With the benefit cuts, hunger advocates fear that more families will struggle to put food on the table.
To address the issue, the General Assembly passed Governor Wes Moore’s bill to accelerate the state’s transition to a $15 per hour minimum wage. The new minimum wage will be required for businesses of all sizes by January 1. Wilson believes that increasing the minimum wage is critical to alleviating poverty and reducing food insecurity.
“I think the effort to raise the minimum wage is critical in these kinds of conversations,” said Wilson. “Let’s not pretend that a lot of the SNAP recipients aren’t already working, they’re just not earning enough to be able to escape poverty.”
In addition to the minimum wage increase, Maryland has also implemented several initiatives to address food insecurity, including the Maryland Meals for Achievement program, which provides free breakfast and lunch to all public school students regardless of income, and the Maryland Market Money program, which provides matching funds to low-income families who use SNAP benefits at farmers markets.
However, hunger advocates argue that more needs to be done to address the root causes of food insecurity, such as poverty, lack of access to affordable housing, and systemic racism.
“Food insecurity is a symptom of a larger problem,” said Wilson. “We need to address the root causes of poverty and inequity if we want to create a food system that is truly just and sustainable.”
As Maryland grapples with the end of SNAP emergency allotments and rising food prices, hunger advocates are calling for action to ensure that all families have access to nutritious and affordable food.