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Many households will struggle with ending of federal pandemic aid

March 1, 2023

The federal government has ended its pandemic aid for millions of low-income families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. 

The average person will receive about $90 less in benefits per month, possibly hundreds of dollars depending on their circumstances, in a time when the price of food, gas and other necessities have emptied many wallets. 

Afton Branche-Wilson, assistant director of community initiatives at the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions, said this reduction in SNAP benefits means households will have to make hard decisions about which expenses to cut, which bills to pay on time and in full, and which bills to pay partially or pay late.

The timing of the ending of extra payments comes as a recent U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that 40 million people are having difficulty affording household expenses. How do you think families will adjust their spending to deal with this reduction in assistance?

Families will spend less on food, perhaps by purchasing lower-priced, lower-quality items or shrinking the size of their meals. Since the beginning of the pandemic-era benefits, some individuals have been able to stock up on items in their freezers and pantries to prepare for lean times—now is the time people will be using those reserves.  

Following an increase in SNAP benefits, families tend to spend more on housing, transportation and education since SNAP benefits free up dollars for other expenses. Now, after this benefits cut, households who are already feeling the effects of inflation on their limited incomes will have to figure out how to spend even less on these important expenses.  

What will be the domino effect from all of this? 

First, food banks in the community will likely see an increase in families seeking assistance. Grocery stores will also see a drop in sales, which we saw in 2014 after temporary SNAP benefit increases related to the Great Recession expired. SNAP dollars support grocery stores in every community, so unfortunately these stores will experience the negative impacts of cuts to SNAP. 

With less money coming from federal aid, will individuals seek employment or—if they already had a job—possibly find a second job? 

Research from 2014 also suggests that some individuals, particularly those with dependents, will work additional hours or jobs in response to a cut in SNAP benefits. But it's important to consider the tradeoffs: Working more might mean less time spent helping children with homework or less time dedicated to continuing education.

What can elected leaders do to help families—or is it even on their radars that people will suffer without that additional money?

We know that these benefits helped reduce poverty and food insecurity for households across the country, therefore, state policymakers should redouble efforts to invest in economic supports for individuals and families, through expansions to state Earned Income Tax Credits, childcare subsidies and other proven policies. At the federal level, restoring the expanded Child Tax Credit which offered monthly payments to caregivers with children would go a long way toward helping families plug the gap in their monthly budgets created by these cuts.

Is there anything families can do to mitigate the effects of this assistance ending?

Make sure the state knows if you have recently lost income or faced a spike in expenses, so they can ensure that you are receiving the full amount of your benefits. Households should also take advantage of other programs and credits designed to support them. Many parents who receive SNAP are automatically eligible for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides access to nutritious foods. It's also tax season, which means working families should file their taxes to receive Earned Income Tax Credit and other payments. These credits are worth thousands—for example, a working parent of two earning $35,000 could qualify for about $6,500 in benefits.

This Q&A was produced by Jared Wadley of Michigan News.