Food banks prepare for SNAP food aid benefits to decrease
Food banks are preparing for an increased demand as benefits from the SNAP food aid program return to pre-pandemic levels.
The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) announced that monthly benefits will return to the lower levels beginning March 1, impacting more than two million people in the state. This comes after Congress passed an act in December which ended the emergency funding set in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marisa Kollias, director of communications for IDHS, said the department has sent notices out alerting recipients of their new benefit amount. The agency anticipates recipients will receive anywhere from $95 to $250 less per month.
Kollias said the department is recommending people report changes in rent or income to still get the greatest benefit possible.
Jennifer Lamplough, chief impact officer for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, said this change will be especially difficult for people now with food prices increasing.
“It's a big deal, especially with food prices being what they are, not only are they going to have less money for groceries, but then that money is going to not go as far as it used to because of the cost of food right now,” Lamplough said.
She said some recipients enrolled in SNAP during the pandemic and haven’t known anything other than the increased benefit.
“We might have a senior, an older adult, who’s used to getting $190 or something like that and when this change happens it can go as low as $23 per month for them so it’s going to be a huge, huge change,” Lamplough said.
Lamplough said food pantries have already seen record increases during the pandemic
Mary Jo Imperato is the director of Human Services at Hanover Township, which operates a food pantry. The pantry purchases food through the Northern Illinois Food Bank at a lower price than retail, but said even then it can be hard to keep up with demand.
They also partnered with local grocery stores, which helped them keep fresh produce, milk, eggs and other goods in stock. They started letting people come once a week during the pandemic, a shift from the previous policy of every other week.
Imperato said she is very concerned about the potential increase in customers, and said the pantry will rely on their grocery store partnerships and donations to keep up with demand.
But not everyone who is food insecure utilizes food pantries.
“There's lots of reasons why but six out of 10 people who are food insecure don't use it,” Lamplough said. “And so they're just gonna go without, and they're going to have to make these sacrifices. Often we hear about seniors sacrificing food so they can afford their medicine, or we hear about moms sacrificing their meals so their kids can eat. That shouldn't be happening in this country.”
Lamplough said people experiencing food insecurity or who wish to donate can go to the Northern Illinois Food Bank website to get assistance or call their SNAP helpline at (844) 600-7627.