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Pennsylvania food banks brace for increase in demand as extra federal food benefits end

In this 2020 file photo, boxes from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank are stacked next to a truck at a distribution event.
Min Xian
In this 2020 file photo, boxes from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank are stacked next to a truck at a distribution event.

The extra payments that participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been getting during the COVID-19 pandemic are ending this month in Pennsylvania, leaving food banks bracing for a surge in demand.

“We fully expect at a minimum that tens of thousands of people, if they weren't using pantries before, will likely need to, or if they were using them before, they're going to have to come in an extra time a month," said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

About 1.9 million Pennsylvanians are enrolled in SNAP, the federal food assistance program. During the pandemic, recipients received a second, supplemental payment. The end of that emergency SNAP funding will cut a person’s monthly payment by an average of $100, according to Pennsylvania's Independent Fiscal Office.

The cuts mean SNAP payments in the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank's 27-county service area will drop by about $41 million a month — from $107 million in February 2023 to $66 million in March 2023. That, Arthur noted, will have an impact on not only recipients, but even on grocery stores, where customers will have less in SNAP benefits to spend.

He said his organization is preparing for the expected increase in need — by stocking their shelves and getting the word out to local agencies.

The change comes as the cost of food and the need for help remain at historic highs in Pennsylvania and across the country.

“As we enter 2023, the demand for food assistance is as high as it's ever been, except for the peak of the pandemic in 2021," Arthur said.

Mel Curtis, who runs the Centre County YMCA’s anti-hunger program, said he spoke with a mother at a recent food distribution. Her family of five has been getting $1,100 a month.

“She got her letter. She is now cut back to a little over $300 a month," Curtis said. "So the impact of that alone is going to be major.”

Impact on seniors

Apart from the emergency allotment, some older Pennsylvanians will see their SNAP benefits decrease or end because of an increase in Social Security payments. The cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security Income is 8.7% this year, the largest increase in 41 years.

But, the state Department of Human Services noted, proportional adjustments in how much a person can earn to qualify for SNAP were not made.

That means about 249,000 households will see their base SNAP benefits decrease by an average of $40 per household in March, according to the department. The state is expecting the Social Security increase will mean about 5,000 to 20,000 households are disenrolled from SNAP.

For help finding resources, call the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank at 877-999-5964.

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.