BY: MICHAEL LYLE, Nevada Current
When a pandemic-era emergency food assistance allotment ends in March, a senior who had been receiving nearly $300 a month in supplemental benefits will instead get about $20.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients have received a supplemental emergency allotment for the last two years, but the additional monthly payments providing extended assistance will stop after March 14 and households will see about a 90% reduction in the benefits they’ve come to rely on.
Members of the Nevada Council on Food Security along with food banks throughout the state have recently warned lawmakers of the potential rise of food insecurity as they try to brace for an increase in clients needing assistance.
Shane Piccinini, the director of government affairs for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, said “we know a tsunami is coming” but it’s a matter of determining how quickly it will hit.
Regis Whaley, the director of government affairs for Three Square Food Bank, said it’s families and seniors who “are looking at some very stark losses.”
“A senior on a fixed income receiving $300 in SNAP is now going to receive $20,” he said. “How do you adjust to that? There is no good way to describe how you adjust to that. It’s going to be a tremendous shock for households.”
Through emergency allotment, which was introduced in 2020, Whaley said Nevadans received roughly $40 million per month in extra assistance.
The Nevada Department of Welfare and Support Services issued more than $1.6 billion in supplemental emergency SNAP benefits to 450,000 Nevada households during the federal emergency declaration.
Even with the data, Whaley said it is hard to quantify the impact those benefits had on people.
“I don’t think we’re going to understand just how much it helped until we see the allotments go away,” he said.
With the rising costs of food prices, supply chain disruptions, increases in gas prices and skyrocketing rent costs, Piccinini said the payments kept people afloat.
“I think the emergency allotments were helping people with the high cost of living and inflation and helping them break even as other factors came into play as they went back to work,” he said.
Piccinini said Northern Nevada Food bank was still serving about 130,000 per month in 2022.
“We’re higher now than we were in the great recession,” he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse survey data in February showed Nevada ranked fourth in food scarcity rates, and nearly 15% of households said there was often not enough to eat in the last week.
The emergency allotment was always designed to end. Still, Piccinini said the timing is less than ideal.
“I wish I had more of a landing pad where the emergency allotments weren’t going to go away until May so I had more time to work with the legislature to figure out where we can get some additional funds,” he said.
In late December, President Joe Biden signed the $1.7 trillion Congressional Consolidated Appropriations Act, which effectively ended the federal public health emergency declaration.
“The trade off was they were going to end the emergency allotments and move that money to summer EBT for kids, which is a great program. I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m just not a fan of doing those kinds of trade offs. It sets a bad policy precedent when we’re trying to serve vulnerable communities by putting one over another.”
Robert Thompson, administrator of the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said when the emergency allotment ends it is expected to “decrease the amount some working families and seniors are receiving by an average of 80-90% which will be difficult for many.”
A household of four, for example, normally would qualify for $100 per month in SNAP, but because of emergency allotment had been receiving the maximum allotment of $939 for two years.
Kenneth Osgood, a member of the Nevada Council on Food Security, and Whaley described the impact of the end of the benefits to state lawmakers in February.
They requested $3.5 million per year to “support household food security” after the emergency allotments stop, along with an additional $1 million per year for anticipated increases in demand at food banks.
Osgood also wants lawmakers to re-authorize $3.4 million in spending for home delivered and congregate meal programs, like Meals on Wheels.
Whaley said the rise of food insecurity in other states that have ended their allotment should be a warning to what could come to Nevada.
“In 2022, states that ended their emergency allotments experienced a roughly 16% increase in food insecurity,” he said. “That’s based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s what we’re looking at here in Nevada and the reason we are asking for the appropriation. We are facing a potential 16% increase.”
During an informational presentation from the Nevada Council on Food Security at a legislative hearing Feb. 17, Assembly Health and Human Services Chair Sarah Peters called the magnitude of what’s to come unimaginable.
“I think about the constituents, in particular our fixed income senior populations who are already struggling with rising rent rates,” she said. “That emergency fund offsets some of those impacts to them. Adding to that inflation, the cost of food today, the cost of gas and other transportation as well as the cost of health care, it doesn’t settle well.”
Lawmakers only heard recommendations at that hearing, and didn’t take any action following the presentation.
Officials could be underestimating the harm to Nevada households.
Piccinini said “it’s in the realm of possibility we could go higher than the 16%” considering Nevada has fared poorly in the aftermath of other economic downturns.
“This is going to be one that’s going to hurt and take us some time to sort out,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s possible to overstate this. We all have to work together as a community to solve it.”