Since the early days of the pandemic, recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often known as food stamps, have received extra funds each month to combat loss of wages during the pandemic and, in more recent months, rising food prices. Those emergency allotments will cease at the end of February following congressional action that put an end to the increased spending on the program.
The boosted benefits allowed SNAP recipients to receive the maximum allowable allotment based on their household size, with a minimum allotment of $95. A household of one that has received the maximum allotment for the last three years – currently $281 – could receive as little as the monthly minimum of $23 come March.
Of the county’s 56,250 residents, 4,511 receive SNAP benefits – over 8%. In Archuleta County, 1,535 residents receive food assistance benefits, or 11%; and in Montezuma County, 4,598 residents take part in the program, or nearly 18%.
John Rosa, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said every SNAP recipient across the state will see a reduction in benefits. On average, each individual will see a $90 reduction in their monthly allocation; the average four-person household will see their benefits reduced by $360.
Congress originally approved the emergency allotments as a temporary measure. Funding for the allocation has not been included in the Consolidated Appropriations Bill, 2023, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29.
Just over half the states in the country are still receiving emergency allocation funds and are subject to the change.
“That will drive thousands of people into crisis,” La Plata County Department of Human Services Director Martha Johnson told county commissioners Wednesday.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of groceries has risen nearly 12% over the last 12 months.
With the reductions looming, SNAP recipients seem largely unaware of the change.
Ryan, who declined to provide a last name, has used SNAP benefits to support himself and his mother since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I’m not happy, mostly because my world is in turmoil,” he said while purchasing groceries at Durango Natural Foods Co-op. “I’m a caregiver for my mom who is diabetic and has autoimmune issues. I’m only working part time right now. ... This is going to have a great impact on us and unfortunately a very negative impact. It’s been what’s kept us stable. We’re on a shoestring budget and the food is key.”
Robby Stu received the maximum allocation for a household of one while he was in the Southwest Conservation Corps last year. His $250 per month in benefits was sufficient to meet his food needs.
Now, Stu is looking to return to low-income conservation work and hopes to receive SNAP benefits again.
“I’m broke spending my money on groceries,” he said. “... I hope to god I don’t get 23 bucks.”
The Durango-based nonprofit Manna, which runs a soup kitchen and a food market where those in need can select food to prepare, is preparing for an influx of visitors.
“We already are serving a lot of folks who do receive that full allotment,” said Manna’s Participant Support Manager Christina Bolt.
She added that the number of visitors tends to rise toward the end of the month as people use up their monthly allocation.
Manna has begun to stock the market with goods provided by the regional food bank provider Care and Share, as well as The Emergency Food Assistance Program. TEFAP is a Department of Agriculture initiative that supplies food banks with basic cooking staples such as potatoes, meat and other vegetables. Bolt said the organization has relied on TEFAP for ingredients for hot meals, but is now expanding those requests to meet the expected increase in demand.
“It’s really going to impact our folks on disability and retirement,” Bolt said. “Single mothers with kids really rely on food stamps, so it’ll be really, really impactful for sure.”
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Johnson said the transition will jar SNAP recipients come March. Standard benefits typically arrive in accounts during the first week of the month and the emergency allocation arrives the second week. To ease the transition, counties and the state will withhold the final emergency allotment until the third week of February.
She also said that other programs are trying to mobilize to meet the expected surge in the number of people seeking food assistance.
San Juan Basin Public Health is encouraging SNAP recipients to explore whether they are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children program.
“Most SNAP-eligible families also qualify for WIC benefits, which include nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and a debit card to purchase an ever-expanding list of healthy foods at an array of Colorado supermarkets,” said SJBPH spokeswoman Megan Graham in a news release. “WIC families can also take advantage of other benefits such as reduced-price community supported agriculture shares.”
Despite the alternative resources available, for those who have relied on SNAP throughout the pandemic, the change stings.
“It sucks for the ones that really need it,” Ryan said. “We’re the ones who are really hurting.”