National and Maryland-based hunger relief organizations are grappling with the fact that millions of federal dollars for food assistance programs are no longer available to low-income families who relied on them through the COVID-19 pandemic, even though many families still struggle to afford basic needs.

The Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit aiming to reduce poverty-related hunger, said that low-income families, including some 360,000 households in Maryland, now have less federal money for food assistance as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program program have gone into play.

So much so the organization reports that the reduced funds result in the average SNAP benefits falling to about $6 a person daily.

Gina Plata-Nino, SNAP deputy director at the Food Research & Action Center, said at a webinar last week that many households across the United States still face food insecurity due to the COVID pandemic. Still, people have less access to assistance as COVID policies expire.

“We’re facing such a food insecurity rate, at the same level at the height of the pandemic, but we don’t have the resources,” Plata-Nino said.

The drop in SNAP dollars comes from a terminated COVID-era policy that provided additional funds to SNAP users during the global health crisis, referred to as “emergency allotments.”

The amount people receive in SNAP benefits is typically calculated based on a household’s income, expenses, and the number of people. However, during the pandemic, the feds provided additional funds to keep households afloat, which was a minimum of $281 for one person a month.

According to FRAC reports, the steepest cuts are felt by older adults who only qualify for the minimum SNAP benefit, as their allotment drops from $281 a month to just $23 a month, which the organization calls a “hunger cliff.”

For Maryland, terminating the emergency allotments has resulted in the state losing $69 million in federal funding that previously helped 360,000 SNAP-recipient households afford food.

Michael J. Wilson, director of the nonprofit Maryland Hunger Solutions, said that his organization has received calls from SNAP recipients who are confused or angry about their SNAP dollars dropping so much.

“We’ve had people call us and say, ‘I was getting $281, and now I am getting $23.’ I’m getting $30. I’m getting $40. What’s going on? Did they make a mistake?’” Wilson said. “And even though we did as much as we could warn people ahead of time that this change was coming, everybody didn’t hear it. Everybody didn’t recognize it. Everybody didn’t realize it meant them.”

Now that Marylanders and low-income families across the United States are seeing their SNAP benefits drop dramatically, hunger-relief organizations are weighing how to help food-insecure people.

The Food Research & Action Center is pushing for U.S. Congress to bolster SNAP benefits in discussions about the renewal of the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in September.

Wilson with Maryland Hunger Solutions said he would like to work with the Moore administration to secure funds so that SNAP recipients receive a boost in their monthly benefit allotment.

“We’re trying to start those conversations because we think Maryland can do better and should do better,” Wilson said.

“So we are hopeful to engage with the Moore administration as well as with the legislature to talk about how we can add additional benefits for SNAP participants,” he said. “We know those dollars are investments and are spent in our grocery stores and farmers’ markets. They don’t get wasted.”

Gov. Wes Moore (D) previewed a potentially challenging fiscal year for Maryland’s state budget Saturday when he said he would have to make some ‘disciplined’ decisions regarding next year’s budget.

“I know that the state is grappling with budget challenges, and I appreciate what the governor said, that we still have priorities, and we’ve got to find a way to deal with our priorities and the budget challenges,” Wilson said. “I think the things we are asking the state to consider doing are the kinds of investments we know to help low-income families.”

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