Food boost welcomed, advocates hope it will be permanent | News

Will Kreznick

Those who hadn’t been getting emergency food benefits because they were already receiving the maximum amount will finally see an increase, for at least as long as the state of emergency lasts, according to hunger advocates. On April 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance […]

Those who hadn’t been getting emergency food benefits because they were already receiving the maximum amount will finally see an increase, for at least as long as the state of emergency lasts, according to hunger advocates.

On April 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, would be getting a $1 billion per month boost nationally.

From that, Vermont should be getting about $2 million extra per month, said Faye Mack, advocacy and education director at Hunger Free Vermont.

Mack said that SNAP, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, has been boosted a number of times throughout the pandemic, with allotments increased by 15% in January.

Since the start of the pandemic, most people getting 3SquaresVT benefits have been getting extra funds.

“The problem has been that households who already received the maximum benefit amount for their household size haven’t been receiving this boost, and those are the lowest income households who are on 3SquaresVT, so those most in need haven’t gotten this additional help,” Mack said. “Now they will.”

While the January increase of 15% is slated to end in September, the added $2 million per month is tied to the state of emergency declared last year by Gov. Phil Scott.

Mack said there will be a one-month buffer for the added benefits should the state of emergency end.

“So if the state were to end an emergency declaration in April, people could get their additional benefits in May, but not in June,” she said. This will give the state time to inform people their benefits will change, and for those people to plan accordingly.

Hunger Free Vermont does not administer 3SquaresVT, that’s handled by the Department for Children and Families. Mack said DCF is fairly quick about getting information out on how benefits will change and more information is expected soon.

Mack said it’s believed that the increase will be at least $95 to households, now including those who’d been getting the maximum.

Nationally, according to Mack, about 40% of the households benefiting from this include children, 20% contain older people, and 15% contain someone who is disabled.

Hunger Free Vermont would like to see these changes made permanent. Mack said that as the Great Recession demonstrated, hunger issues long outlast the crisis that created them and the fear is that will happen with the pandemic, too.

“Hunger is higher now than it ever was during the recession, so we expect it will take many years for people to recover, so these higher SNAP benefits are really great right now and they need to continue,” she said.

Vermont Foodbank Chief Executive Officer John Sayles said Wednesday the USDA’s announcement is in line with what the Foodbank and others have been advocating, that being to bolster SNAP benefits.

“It’s the right direction and it shows the USDA is taking seriously the views and needs of the people we’ve been talking about for years now,” Sayles said.

He said the USDA is also reevaluating how much people receive through SNAP in general. According to Sayles, the benefit levels even before the pandemic weren’t enough to keep people getting the benefits adequately fed.

“The emergency SNAP increases authorized by Congress last year were not being distributed equitably, and the poorest households — who have the least ability to absorb the economic shocks brought about by COVID — received little to no emergency benefit increases,” stated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in an April 1 release. “As part of President Biden’s commitment to deliver economic relief, and ensure every family can afford to put food on the table, today’s actions will provide much-needed support for those who need it most.”

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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