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“It’s going to be a hardship”: Millions will lose emergency food stamp payments next month

Al Behrman
On average, people in Pennsylvania will be losing roughly $94 per person, per month in assistance, according to Pittsburgh-based anti-hunger advocates.

Pittsburgher Michelle Ricketts, 63, is bracing for the coming loss of more than $200 from her monthly grocery budget.

She’s one of millions of Americans who had been getting extra pandemic-related assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called SNAP or food stamps.

Those additional payments will be ending soon, however. Ricketts will see her last one this month.

“It's surely going to be missed because now, you know, at the end of the month, I'm probably going to be borrowing money and whatnot,” she said. “And it's even worse now because everything's like so much money. I can't believe it, every time I go to the grocery store, it's like, ‘What the heck?’”

February’s “Emergency Allotment” payment will be the last one for SNAP households in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, because of legislation passed by Congress in December. (Some states had already ended the payments early.)

On average, people in Pennsylvania will be losing roughly $94 per person, per month in assistance, said Ann Sanders, an advocate at Pittsburgh-based anti-hunger organization Just Harvest.

The state is estimating a loss of about $180 monthly per household.

Advocates, state human service officials, the grocery industry, and people using SNAP benefits all say the loss of so much money at once is going to hurt.

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‘A lifeline’

"We know this additional SNAP payment has been a lifeline for people over the past three years and that ongoing economic uncertainty and high food prices are contributing to food insecurity for many Pennsylvanians,” said acting Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Val Arkoosh in a statement about the changes.

Pittsburgher Pauline DeMarzo is more blunt.

“I don't know how they think people are going to eat and put food on the table,” said DeMarzo. She and her grandchildren, who she has been raising since the death of her daughter, will be losing hundreds of dollars a month from their grocery budget because of the changes.

More people are receiving food stamps now than anytime previously in Pennsylvania – more than 1.94 million individuals got the aid in December, according to the most recent state data. (That’s in part due to changes made last fall that allowed people with slightly higher incomes to be eligible, but also likely due to inflation-driven increases in the price of food.) Enrollment has seen five month-over-month increases in a row and is 11.5% above pre-pandemic levels from December 2019.

State officials say they are advising people who will be impacted by sending letters and trying to get the word out about the changes so people aren’t taken by surprise in March, as well as advising SNAP recipients to see if there is any other aid they might qualify for, such as WIC for parents with young children or the “Senior Food Box” program that some senior citizens qualify for.

“We recognize that this is going to be a big change for households, and it's happening very quickly,” said Scott Cawthern, acting Deputy Secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance in the state Department of Human Services.

Federal officials have said the aid was always meant to be temporary and are also promoting other programs recipients might be eligible for.

“There are actually many resources that [SNAP beneficiaries] can tap into if they are worried about having enough food,” said Patty Bennett, a regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic offices within the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program.

Ricketts said she’s not sure how she’ll cope on her Social Security income alone. She already economizes by shopping at a discount grocery store, buying in bulk when she can, and using coupons.

“Every piece of meat that I have in my fridge is bought on sale. I don't pay retail for meat all. I stock up on butter when it's on sale, goes in my freezer. … I used to go to the food bank. I'm probably going to have to go back,” she said.

State officials are also asking people who can afford to do so to donate to food banks, to ease the strain those charities will likely feel.

It’s unclear if that will be enough.

“[Food banks] have been talking about ways that we can … minimize the impact on the community as much as possible. But we do know that food banks in general cannot make up for the loss of the magnitude that we're going to see from the ending of SNAP emergency allotments,” said Colleen Young, director of government affairs at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Double whammy

State officials and advocates have also expressed concern that these cuts, combined with another change, will be especially painful for seniors and others who depend on Social Security income.

Driven by higher-than-normal inflation, Social Security recipients received an especially large annual cost of living adjustment – an 8.7% increase. However, eligibility thresholds for SNAP did not rise proportionally. The state estimates about 250,000 households will thus see a decrease in their monthly SNAP benefits because of this Social Security benefit increase.

The exact amount of money people will lose every month depends on a household’s size, income, and other factors. But advocates are expecting seniors will see a bigger impact because of this change as well.

“It's going to be hardship for all of the SNAP households. But some are going to be hit harder than others,” said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research & Action Center.

The combined changes – the end of emergency allotments and the Social Security income adjustment – will leave Ricketts with only $23 a month in SNAP benefits.

The change will also impact DeMarzo and her grandkids.

“It's like they give in one hand and take in the other,” she lamented.

Demarzo said she already patronizes the food bank.

“It's tough,” she said. “When I go to the food bank. There are people of all ages, races and backgrounds that have to turn to the food pantry in the economy today. I see young people, I see old people. I've seen people that I knew when I worked. And we're all in the same boat because it's expensive to eat.”

For more on the end of SNAP Emergency Allotments in Pennsylvania, or to find out what other assistance you might qualify for, click here.

Corrected: February 20, 2023 at 9:52 AM EST
Ellen Vollinger is SNAP director of the Food Research & Action Center, not the Food Research and Education Center.
Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.