A pandemic-related boost to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food aid is ending Wednesday, resulting in cuts that experts say could affect over 360,000 Maryland households.

Households across the country are expected to have their food assistance benefits cut at least $95 a month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Maryland is set to lose $69 million in federal funds per month from this reduction, according to a press release from Maryland Hunger Solutions — a loss that will have reverberating consequences for families, retailers and farmers across the state.

SNAP recipients are now bracing for what experts call “a benefits cliff” in which their funds will plummet suddenly from February to March. The drop-off will leave families across the country scrambling to offset the cost amid historically high food prices.

In addition, Maryland has seen an exponential increase in benefits theft. Maryland recipients reported $90,000 in stolen benefits in 2021, but in 2022 that number rose to more than $1.5 million. Those benefits are not always replaced, although both federal and state lawmakers are making efforts to reimburse victims.

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“It’s one thing to have your benefits go down in March,” said Maryland Hunger Solutions Director Michael J. Wilson. “But when they stay down in April, in May, in June — that’s the gradual devastation.”

In 2020, the federal government instituted SNAP emergency allotments to help address economic stress caused by the pandemic. The new provision guaranteed that the United States Department of Agriculture would distribute additional SNAP funding to states as long as government public health emergencies were in place.

Under Biden, monthly SNAP benefits reached a historic high, increasing about 30% from pre-pandemic levels. SNAP benefits are also adjusted annually for cost of living and inflation.

Researchers at the Urban Institute found that the SNAP emergency allotments significantly lessened poverty nationwide. According to the report, the extra funds helped keep 4.2 million people out of poverty in the last part of 2021 — reducing poverty by nearly 10% with the highest reductions for Black and Latino communities.

Initially, all states utilized the extra funding in 2020 and early 2021. By late 2022, 17 states, which didn’t include Maryland, decided to stop emergency allotments.

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But, in the spending bill passed in late December 2022, Congress ended SNAP emergency allotments early in exchange for continuing to fund summer meals for low-income children while schools are closed. Before the spending bill, the funding was set to end by April 2023.

“We were all kind of taken by surprise,” said JD Robinson, program coordinator at Maryland Hunger Solutions.

The decrease in benefits will vary depending on household composition, size and income. Experts worry that families with children and elderly people will experience the steepest drop-off. For example, one older adult who only qualifies for the minimum SNAP amount could go from receiving $281 a month to $23.

“It’s just important for people to understand that the folks that are being impacted aren’t passively sitting by,” said Veronica Purcell Crosby, a program manager with CASH Campaign of Maryland. CASH Campaign is a nonprofit that promotes economic advancement and financial education for Maryland families.

Crosby said, even with emergency allotments, many of her clients work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

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“Unfortunately, their wages are just not high enough to be able to cover the expenses that they have,” Crosby continued. “We have people who come in with four and five W-2s just to have a household income of $40,000.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Callan Tansill-Suddath contributed to this report.

brenna.smith@thebaltimorebanner.com

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