Central Texas Food Bank volunteers carry boxes of food donations to waiting vehicles at Del Valle High School in Del Valle on Jan. 23, 2021. Roughly 700 families were served by the food drive in the first hour and a half | Photo credit: Evan L'Roy via The Texas Tribune

By Emma Williams

Originally appeared in the Texas Tribune

During the pandemic, Texans received extra money on their Lone Star cards through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, also known as food stamps. That extra money ends this month.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed 69-year-old Longview resident Gary Rogers’ life in one unexpected way. As a SNAP recipient, the amount he received on his Lone Star card to buy groceries rose from a paltry $16 a month to $232, as part of a federal stimulus package.

But after almost three years, Rogers is one of 3.7 million Texans who will lose their pandemic-related relief in March. Going forward, Rogers will receive just $23 a month.

“A year ago, I was very happy. I had plenty of money — I didn’t have to worry about where I was gonna get groceries or how much it was gonna cost me,” Rogers said. “It was very stressful before, and then we got the allotment and there was no stress. Now the stress is back.”

SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, offers food assistance to low-income individuals. In Texas, 79% of SNAP participants, who access that money for food through the Lone Star debit card, are families with children. And more than 27% are families with elderly or disabled members.

Every single SNAP recipient or household will now see their Lone Star card lose at least $95 this month. The average household will see a reduction of $212. That reduction, announced as coronavirus infections have fallen, comes alongside a rise in prices, stressing recipients’ ability to afford food.

“We have the highest inflation in 40 years, we are estimating that food costs are going to continue to rise over the next year at 8.6%, and most people that are eligible for SNAP are not ones that are seeing 8-10% raises,” said Libby Campbell, CEO of the West Texas Food Bank.

SNAP benefits are adjusted for inflation, but recipients and advocates say the adjustments aren’t enough to adequately account for the increasing cost of food.

Ripple effect

Food banks act as a kind of distribution center: Food that is donated or purchased is compiled at the banks, which then distribute it to partner agencies and food pantries. Food banks in Texas are already struggling with the rising cost of food and an influx of customers from the stalled economy.

“We are bracing for the West Texas Food Bank to see probably north of 8-10% increase in need within the next 60 or 90 days. We’re already 27-28% higher than last year. We’re on track to already do over 15 or 16 million pounds of food this year,” Campbell said. “The question is, can your food banks in the great state of Texas continue to carry the weight without added resources from the state or federal government?”

Food bank leaders hope relief may come through a handful of initiatives proposed during this legislative session, according to Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. The Texas Department of Agriculture is asking for a budget increase for its Surplus Agricultural Products Grant program, which allows food banks to purchase unsellable produce — for example, squash that’s the wrong color or misshapen carrots. It’s food that’s still nutritious, but far less expensive.

Because the value of recipients’ cars is factored into how much SNAP aid they are entitled to, some residents have received less money in benefits or been kicked off the program entirely because the value of their car increased. House Bill 1287 and Senate Bill 273 would reassess how the value of recipients’ cars is determined to better reflect today’s car values.

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Pandemic SNAP benefits have ended | The Texas Tribune