This 15% increase expires at the end of September, after some states have already ended emergency allocations. For many people who receive SNAP benefits, the loss of increased aid during a pandemic could be offset by the recently approved change to the Thrifty Foods plan’s federal formula, which determines how much money a household can receive. in SNAP help. The biggest benefit a one-person household could receive under the new plan will be $ 250 per month (or $ 2.74 per meal), up from a maximum of $ 234 per month (or $ 2.56 per meal), excluding all economic relief benefits in the event of a pandemic which are over.
Hard times for the elderly
The increase in SNAP food aid during the pandemic has been a rare bright spot in a year and a half of struggle.
When the pandemic hit, Carr said older people who relied on catering programs in senior centers and elsewhere saw those options largely disappear. Not only did these programs provide reliable meals at low cost or even free, “when you’re around people and there’s that excitement,” Carr said, “you’re more inclined to eat and consume and do a lot. better nutritionally. “
Isolation of the pandemic has had the opposite effect. Carr recalled patients confined to homes and rooms who fell into depression and lay in bed for weeks. “For a lot of people, they just stop and they lose a lot of weight,” which makes them even more vulnerable to COVID, he said.
At the same time, the pandemic has strained the country’s food safety net. Meals on Wheels programs lost volunteers – who worried about their own safety – and had to recruit new ones, change delivery routes and find new sources of food. Many small pantries have reduced their hours of operation, and large and small pantries have shifted to delivering food behind the wheel.
Echols, who makes do with Social Security disability benefits, said some of the places she searched for food before the pandemic, including a church, closed completely for a while, then opened for a while. very limited hours. “Initially there was nowhere to go,” she said.
Echols was extremely grateful for the help she received from the Center for Food Action, a large nonprofit serving the poorest and most vulnerable residents of northern New Jersey, which distributed food through a delivery service. But she also temporarily lost access to this aid when her car broke down and had to be replaced.
Going to grocery stores – and ordering food online – has also proved difficult for millions of seniors. Toth said many rural areas in Louisiana, for example, have no internet access and no large grocery stores.
Even before the pandemic, Louisiana was tied with West Virginia for the nation’s fifth rate of senior food insecurity among states, according to “The State of Senior Hunger in America 2019”. This study, conducted by Feeding America and partners Craig Gunderson of Baylor University and James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky, found that nearly one in 10 seniors in this state was food insecure, which means that they didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
The financial devastation of COVID has only made matters worse, and people have turned to food banks and pantries to meet their needs.
Mary Andrews of Monroe, Louisiana, said she picked up a box of food every month from the Northeast Louisiana Bank during the pandemic, getting canned food, milk, butter, juice, chicken and more.
“It helps a lot,” said Andrews, 84.
Kathryn Marles, another client of Monroe’s food bank, agreed.
“When you receive this box you are really surprised and happy,” said Marles, 66, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “They give you everything you can use in the kitchen.”
Marles said she used to go to senior centers for group meals before the pandemic, “but the senior citizen’s place is closed so I’m going to the food bank.”
Lisa Smith, director of customer services at ElderServe in Louisville, Ky., Said many seniors have found ways to get what they need, even if it means trying several different avenues or asking for help. for the first time.
“It was certainly difficult for the elderly,” she said. “But they were very resistant.”
The same goes for those who try to help them. In recent months, widespread COVID vaccination has allowed many volunteers to return to work in pantries and meal programs and has also helped loved ones feel more secure visiting elderly members. of the family.
During the early days of the pandemic, there wasn’t much help for the elderly, Carr said. “But eventually people found a way.”
Food boost “a godsend”
For many seniors, increasing SNAP benefits has been another crucial lifeline. Carr considers them “a godsend”.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 44% of all SNAP households in 2018 included at least one adult aged 50 or older. Almost a third of these households received the maximum benefit, which was $ 194 per month for a one-person household. But 1 in 6 of those households received the minimum allowance, which in recent years was $ 16 per month for households one and two in every state except Hawaii and Alaska.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted a cascade of program changes made during the pandemic, starting with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020 that gave the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) the power to leave states Temporarily change procedures to make it easier for people to apply for or continue to receive SNAP benefits.
The law also allowed states to provide emergency allowances to SNAP households, which all states have done. At first, some of the lowest income households were left behind, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But the Biden administration reversed that policy, and as of April, all households in states receiving these benefits received emergency allowances of at least $ 95.
For many older people, this meant a big boost. Nicole Burda, senior legislative representative for AARP, said a single senior receiving $ 16 before the pandemic saw benefits jump to $ 204 per month with emergency pandemic allowances, which then went up to $ 234 in January due to the temporary 15% increase. Someone who was already peaking finally saw their benefits increase to $ 329 per month.
But those allocations were dependent on the federal government declaring a public health emergency and the states issuing a declaration of emergency or disaster. The federal pandemic’s temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits ends this month, and some states have already stopped providing their emergency allowances.
However, once emergency benefits expire, SNAP recipients will continue to receive an increased level of assistance, due to the recent change in benefit formula adopted by the USDA. Burda said seniors will generally see an increase in their benefits relative to pre-pandemic benefit levels as the federal government adjusts its Thrifty Food plan, the basis for calculating SNAP benefits. Under these changes, the maximum benefit for a one-person household will be $ 250 in the fiscal year beginning October 1.
But the minimum will only be $ 20 per month, meaning those who previously would have received $ 16 per month will only see a $ 4 increase over pre-pandemic benefits at the end of emergency allowances.