ALAMOSA– As a result of business closures, school closures impacting parents’ ability to work, long periods of illness and other examples of Covid-related economic fall-out, recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits began receiving additional allotments each month beginning in April of 2020. Those monthly allotments – that came as a separate secondary allotment received on top of recipients’ regular SNAP allotment and have continued since then, each month for the last two-plus years.
However, sometime in the coming months, those additional allotments will come to an end when the Public Health Emergency ends, and individuals and families receiving SNAP benefits will revert back to receiving the single SNAP payment they received prior to April 2020.
Exactly when the additional monthly allotment will stop is not known at this time. The federal government has guaranteed that the date will be announced 60 days prior to the supplemental allotment program ending, allowing staff at the Departments of Human Services ample time to inform recipients and SNAP recipients ample time to prepare for the change in support.
Initially, the program was set to end on October 13, 2022, but, as of Friday morning, the federal government had not issued the 60-day notice.
“We’re not sure when it’s going to be stopped,” says Catherine Salazar, Director of Human Services for Alamosa County. “But we know it’s going to stop sometime soon and we’ll have the sixty-day notice to give us all fair warning of the end of the Public Health Emergency.”
Salazar says her staff has been letting recipients know in every way they can think of, from conversations with recipients when they call or come to the office to distribute flyers to local businesses, municipalities and non-profits.
“We’re spreading the word to everybody we can because it’s going to impact a lot of people,” she says. “We currently have 2,300 families on our caseload. That equals about 5800 people just in Alamosa County.”
For those 2300 families, what is coming is going to be a significant change.
According to Salazar, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to figuring eligibility and how much SNAP assistance recipients receive. The size of a person’s family, the total amount of income, what other assistance they receive and expenses they have on an ongoing basis – all those factors and more go into computing the level of benefits. But the purpose of the benefits, Salazar says, needs to be remembered.
“SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Supplemental. The program isn’t supposed to meet all the needs a family has for food. It’s just supposed to supplement what they’re already spending, so maybe that money can be freed up for other necessities.”
While firmly agreeing that the support has been needed, Salazar says the additional allotment – which was set at a maximum level of benefits, depending on the person’s eligibility – has made a significant difference in people’s economic stability.
As an example, she cites people living on a set income from, for example, Social Security or a pension. “Many of our older clients receive $20 a month in SNAP benefits because they have that retirement income every month. The additional allotment gave them an additional $230 a month, adding up to $250 they could spend on food. That was very helpful.”
Another example cited was a family of four who typically receive a $300 SNAP allotment each month but have been receiving an additional allotment of $535 for a maximum allotment of $835.
“When the program first started, people really needed that extra help. They really did. And we told them then, remember, this is only temporary. At some point, this extra allotment is going to stop. But people get used to that extra help and when they learn it’s going away…well, it’s difficult for them to hear.”
Salazar says clients are being counseled to prepare now for the future that’s coming.
“We’re telling them to buy in bulk, to stock up on canned goods, to freeze things they buy on sale so that they’ll have it when they need it.”
Salazar has also sent out the word to pantries and food banks in the area that they may need to prepare for a surge, suggesting that food distributions change from once a month to twice monthly. She has also told Care and Share, who distribute the third Thursday of every month, to consider the same option.
Annalise Baer, Director of the Food Bank Network with La Puente, says that surge is already on her radar.
“We know it’s coming,” Baer says. “We’ve been watching this very closely and have already notified those groups we work with that we expect a significant increase when the allotments stop.” But, according to Baer, who oversees all 15 pantries spread out across the valley, they have already seen an increase in demand since April, something she attributes to inflation.
“It’s hard to prepare for something like this happening in the future, especially when we’re lucky enough to offer fresh produce,” Baer says. “But we’re planning as best as we can right now. And when it happens, we may have to stock up on more non-perishables or maybe cut back a little bit on the amount of food people are allowed. We have different options that we can consider.”
As the end of allotments approaches, Salazar has strong praise for the community. “So many groups in Alamosa work in the spirit of trying to help.” That is something she also sees her staff demonstrates every day.
“We understand that this is a painful process. It’s hard to unwind from the program, and we know that some people are scared. But some people have gotten belligerent, blaming us like it’s our fault the allotments are ending. That’s hard on my staff. I just wish people would understand that we have nothing to do with ending the program. It’s not our decision. I wish that those people would remember we are people, too. We understand it's not easy to get this news. Just please understand it’s not easy to give the news, either.”