Impact of Federally-Funded Food Assistance During Disaster Emergency

foodImage by M. Maggs

HARRISBURG, PA — Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller recently discussed the life-sustaining benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and food assistance for Pennsylvanians under the Governor’s Disaster Emergency Declaration.

Since March 2020, Pennsylvanians have received about $100 million each month and more than $1 billion total in federally-funded SNAP funds to help low-income individuals and families beyond normal SNAP distributions. Without an active disaster declaration, Pennsylvania would be unable to request these emergency SNAP allotments for the more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians the use SNAP to afford groceries and feed their families.

“These emergency allotments, or supplemental payments, have been a critical piece of our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic challenges it created,” said Secretary Miller. “This additional funding is federal and at no additional cost to the state. These funds directly support small businesses, food retailers, and grocers that participate in SNAP. They help keep plates and pantries full and contribute directly to our local economies during a period of great challenge.”

SNAP is our country’s most important and most impactful anti-hunger program and primarily serves families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. For every meal provided by a Feeding Pennsylvania food bank, SNAP provides nine. SNAP funds can only be spent on certain food products like fresh produce and meat, dairy products, and other groceries. While SNAP is intended to be a supplemental program, during a pandemic and historic unemployment, resources are strained, particularly for the lowest income Pennsylvanians.

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The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) permitted states to extend emergency SNAP allotments to current SNAP recipients due to the ongoing COVID-19 and economic crises. Since March 2020, DHS has been able to issue approximately $100 million in additional SNAP benefits each month to nearly 600,000 Pennsylvania households each month. In total, this has brought in more than $1 billion in direct aid for Pennsylvania individuals and families as well as the small businesses, food retailers, and local food producers that feed our communities and have likely experienced the challenges of operating in a difficult economic climate.

These monthly emergency allotments are slated to increase effective April 2021. Federal guidance was recently issued clarifying that states will now be able to request an additional supplement of $95 for households that receive the maximum benefit. This will allow Pennsylvania to issue an additional $712 million in emergency allotments to households that previously did not receive this assistance in the coming weeks.

According to Feeding Pennsylvania, nearly 1 in 20 Pennsylvanians were newly food insecure in 2020. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities also found in a survey conducted in February 2021 that 22 million adults nationwide said their household did not have enough to eat in the previous week – more than double the number that indicated the same in 2019.

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Inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies can have profound effects on a person’s life and health, including increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs. As the nation continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic, access to essential needs like food is more important than ever to help keep vulnerable populations healthy and mitigate co-occurring health risks.

Additionally, SNAP is a critical supporter of Pennsylvania’s economy, with more than 10,000 authorized retailers participating in SNAP across Pennsylvania. In May 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a study on the influence of SNAP redemptions on the economy and county-level employment in the time leading up to, during, and after the Great Recession. This study found that SNAP redemptions could have a greater economic stimulus impact than other forms of government spending per dollar spent, especially during a recession, because they are paid directly to low-income individuals. For instance, the grocery subsidies deliver food directly to tables along with a financial return into rural supermarkets and small businesses in those communities.

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“During a pandemic and historic unemployment, resources are strained, particularly for the lowest-income Pennsylvanians.  SNAP is also an efficient way to support our local economies while ensuring households can keep food on the table,’ said Secretary Miller. “There will be a time when a disaster declaration will no longer be needed. None of us expects to be in this situation indefinitely. But, because of the disaster declaration, we do not have to forfeit this critical federal funding which would have serious implications for Pennsylvania and our most vulnerable individuals and families.”

For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Food_Security/Pages/default.aspx.

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