‘You can’t just give up’: Parents struggle to feed their families after additional SNAP benefits end

Written by Zoe Han

Rising food prices and the end of SNAP emergency benefits present a dual challenge for families

Tori Misko, a medical bill and single mother of two, skipped lunch at work and snacked on potato chips so her kids could munch on apples and oranges. Misko, 29, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to put food on the table and provide snacks for her children. This month, her benefits have dropped from about $700 to $250.

She used to buy grapes and strawberries to mix things up, but these are no longer on hand. “What else should I do? You can’t give up,” said Misko. “You must use your ‘mother’s brain’ and see what will hurt you the least.”

She splits her $1,800 monthly income with SNAP benefits on rent and utilities, car insurance, gas, child care, and groceries.

Congress authorized a temporary increase in SNAP benefits, called emergency benefits, in March 2020 to help people through pandemic-related business closures and job losses. These payments gave participants at least $95 in addition to their original monthly benefits.

But the latest blanket spending bill ended emergency appropriations for most states after the February issues. Families with children will lose an average of $223 per month, according to the Center’s Budget and Policy Priorities calculation.

During the day, Misko and her two children usually have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Children snack on apples and oranges throughout the day and have lunch at the nursery. Meanwhile, Misko doesn’t eat until dinner, which is usually pasta or a stew she makes on Sunday.

She added that other benefits offered earlier in the pandemic were a big help. For example, a one-year improvement to child tax credit payments in 2021 allowed her to pay her car insurance premiums; When they finished, that posed another challenge.

SNAP recipients like Miesko are already exposed to financial risk. To qualify for SNAP benefits, most families must have a gross monthly income of less than 130% of the federal poverty line. (SNAP recipients in Alaska and Hawaii are bound by slightly higher income limits.)

About 45% of SNAP recipients have children, compared to 28% of non-SNAP families, according to a recent survey by data company Numerator.

Nearly three in ten SNAP households said that “sometimes” there hasn’t been enough food in the past seven days, while 11% said that “often” there hasn’t been enough food in the past seven days, According to the Census Bureau. A survey of more than 10 million SNAP households. (The seven-day period from February 1 to February 13, 2023 was covered.)

Although the worst days of the pandemic seem to be over, high inflation presents new challenges for low-income families, food equality advocates say.

The annual rate of inflation in February was 6%, according to government data released on Tuesday. Food prices increased by 9.5% compared to the same month last year, and grocery prices increased by 10.2%. Food inflation peaked in August 2022 at 11.4% higher than last year.

SNAP benefits don’t keep up with inflation

Experts and advocates recently warned that food insecurity is on the rise, and if public support is not provided, many will fall off the “hunger cliff,” meaning that families will suddenly suffer food shortages due to rising prices and diminishing SNAP benefits.

Adding to the pressures SNAP recipients are feeling: The CPI recorded a nearly 300% rise in food prices in elementary and high schools in February compared to the year before, largely because of the mass school meal program’s past hiatus. He falls.

The Universal School Meals Program was part of the federal government’s pandemic-era emergency food relief.

While low-income families rely on public assistance to make ends meet, few programs have managed to keep up with rising prices over the past year. The maximum monthly SNAP benefit for a family of four last September was $130 less than the USDA’s estimate of the amount needed for a “budget-friendly, nutritious food plan”; Researchers Gregory Axe and Laura Wheaton of the center-left Urban Institute wrote in a February report that this deficit fell to $28 the following month after updating the benefit level.

Jasmine Wooten, a 33-year-old mother of two, volunteers at a local pantry project for single moms, Motherfull, located in Columbus, Ohio three times a week. She also gets food from the pantry, which she said is a great help to her family. Monthly SNAP benefits are down $95 this month to $650.

Wooten has noticed an influx of moms into the pantry since January, she said. “It gets crowded during the holidays, but that’s normal. People really try to supplement these big holiday meals,” Wooten said. “But in the new year, there was a lot of busyness.”

Since starting Motherful at the start of the pandemic, the program has continued to see increased demand from single moms, said Lisa Woodward, co-founder and co-director of the organization. The nonprofit has partnered with Trader Joe’s and is open three times a week providing staples like fresh vegetables and meat to local moms “of all zip codes and all income levels.” Woodward said the program also helps many single moms who need help but don’t qualify for SNAP.

The stigma of being a single parent

Jessica Burrows, North Carolina director of the Hunger and Food Insecurity Campaign at MomsRising, a grassroots advocacy organization, said wages are struggling to keep up with inflation, especially for low-income moms.

Balancing work and childcare is hard work, especially if you’re a single parent. That’s why Wooten, who recently graduated as a social worker after six years of schooling, is dedicating herself to finding a job that could pay enough to get her family out of food assistance programs.

She said a low-income $20-an-hour job brings in money, but it also means she’ll have to pay for childcare while she works. Wooten will lose a lot of SNAP and Medicaid benefits when her income goes up.

And the clock is ticking: Wooten and her children are currently living in a rent-free housing program, but that will soon change.

If I work at Amazon [warehouses]I won’t have time to go to the pantry, said Wooten. “There’s a lot going on with being a single mom that people don’t understand looking at. So it’s often seen as making an excuse, which isn’t the case at all.”

Meanwhile, she continues to look for ways for her family to cut costs. Wooten asked her kids to make sure they only use a few squares of toilet paper when going to the bathroom to save on toiletries, and she said she’s constantly faced with such tough choices.

So it’s trying to strike a balance between, ‘Can I pay my car bill or do I need to make a call on an extension?'” Wooten said. How do I get my cell phone? “That’s the one thing I can’t do without—I have to be able to contact my employers.”

Parents eat less fruit and vegetables – and the little joys

Burrows said moms across North Carolina — and across the country — have expressed concerns and concerns about the end of SNAP emergency benefits.

“Many of our members were already struggling to stretch their SNAP funds to last all month, and they said those cuts would be devastating,” Burroughs told MarketWatch. “Parents worry that they won’t be able to afford healthy, nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and instead will need to rely on cheap processed foods to feed their children.”

In the most recent monthly survey by Providers, an app for SNAP users to check Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) balances, a user from Colorado commented, “Losing benefits would be a huge blow. We’d just have to eat a lot less. I’ll make sure my son eats even if It meant I had to skip a meal here and there.”

Misko, the native of Pittsburgh, makes a big Sunday meal that usually spans three to four days. On the remaining days of the week, Misko had to turn to McDonald’s to save money — “which is obviously not a healthy option, but it’s cheaper,” she said.

For many parents, making trade-offs to ensure their children don’t have an empty stomach is nothing new. In an early February survey of more than 550 parents by ParentsTogether Action, a nonprofit family advocacy organization, 65% of parents said they had to buy fewer fruits and vegetables or change brands of food they buy.

One North Carolina mom shared with her that the extra EBT money from the pandemic allowed her to put more fresh fruits and vegetables on the table, including dragon fruit, a favorite of her son, Burroughs of Moms Rising said. Prior to emergency provisions, Burroughs said, women usually had to “count the tomatoes and cucumbers.”

Misko said he’s about to continue making it work with limited resources. This includes cutting back and continuing on the things she was looking forward to, like the shampoo she loved.

“The little things that make life more bearable—sometimes you have to get rid of them,” Misko said.


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Zoe Han

This content was generated by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently of Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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03-18-23 1055ET

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