Rising grocery costs across the United States have all but ensured that a full shopping cart comes with a big dent in one’s wallet.
Now, the federal government has ended extra assistance for food provided to low-income people since the beginning of the pandemic.
The change comes at an alarming time for organizations like the New Braunfels Food Bank, which has seen the number of people seeking assistance rebound to nearly that of peak pandemic demand.
Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, said it’s not surprising that pandemic strategies would expire now that the health emergency has ended.
“But what came into play was inflation on so many expenses like housing and utilities and food, that now getting a reduction on your benefits means that families get even less food at the grocery store for their dollar than they were getting before the pandemic,” Cooper said.
The New Braunfels Food Bank on South Seguin Avenue is an extension of the San Antonio organization.
In March 2020, Congress instituted emergency allotments as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The program was an attempt to sustain families struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
People who apply for federal “food stamp” assistance qualify for specific dollar amounts based on their income.
The emergency measure allowed states to give the maximum monthly allotment to everyone, without as much scrutiny to individual circumstances.
Now Congress has ended the public health emergency and rolled back the additional benefits.
Texas families stopped receiving the additional money at the beginning of March.
The change has caused confusion for many local residents.
“Some believe they’re being kicked off the program, and that’s not the case,” Cooper said. “If you’re in a very dire situation, your benefits didn’t change at all. But if you had certain characteristics on your application, you might receive a reduction.”
The average person will receive about $90 a month less in SNAP benefits, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The change is estimated to impact about 30 million Americans.
More than 3.6 million people in Texas are enrolled in SNAP, with nearly 8,000 Comal County residents participating in the program.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission administers the federal program.
Participants can buy groceries with a Lone Star card.
Stacy Dean, the U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, noted that the change is a necessary adjustment.
“The emergency allotments were always intended to be temporary and they did tremendous good during a very difficult time in our country,” Dean said. “The process of unwinding from them will certainly be difficult for families who are counting on those benefits.”
Before the pandemic, the San Antonio Food Bank system fed about 60,000 people a week throughout South Texas.
That number doubled during the pandemic.
In early 2021, the number fell to about 90,000.
But now, the organization is feeding more than 105,000 people every week.
Cooper said that it’s too early to tell if the loss of emergency allotments will cause another significant increase.
In the meantime, the organization says that local residents can help by providing food and monetary donations, volunteering time, and advocating for policies that help low-income families.
To receive assistance or help the New Braunfels Food Bank, visit nbfoodbank.org.
For information about state SNAP assistance, visit YourTexasBenefits.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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