CLEVELAND — Millions of Americans are bracing for changes to a pandemic-era benefit. March 1 will mark the end of extra money for families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
On Tuesday, families told News 5 the stress of losing the emergency allotments was compounded by a technical glitch. Many reported a delay in receiving their final enhanced payment.
“I went to the grocery store, me and my 9-year-old son, hoping the SNAP (benefits) would be on the card, hoping to get something to eat,” Ali Merrell said. “I thought maybe I had $200 to go shopping. Come to find out, I didn’t have it.”
The Cleveland father said he had planned to purchase enough groceries to tide his family over when they lose the additional monthly payments.
“I’m getting calls from my friends: ‘Hey, did your stamps hit?’ I’m getting calls from my cousin: ‘Did the stamps hit? Can you call up there?’” Merrell said.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said its SNAP EBT vendor was experiencing a delay in processing the February emergency allotments. The agency told News 5 it’s working with the vendor to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
RELATED: February SNAP emergency allotments delayed in Ohio due to vendor issue, ODJFS says
Merrell said he’s been receiving almost $100 in extra monthly assistance during the pandemic. The delay in receiving his February payment added anxiety to his concerns about losing the extra money.
“It helped out a lot. It helps me feed me, my 9-year-old son, my niece and my other 2 nephews and maybe my girlfriend too,” he explained. “When you’re in poverty, that’s how you survive – the food stamps, we look forward to them every month.”
The Center for Community Solutions estimates Cuyahoga County will lose $23 million monthly when the emergency allotments end on March 1.
“The people most impacted by the benefit reduction, first, would be families with small children. They’ll see their average benefits drop maybe around $500 a month,” explained John Corlett, the president of the Cleveland-based think tank. “The next group that takes the biggest hit are older adults, senior citizens, those over the age of 65. They’ll see their benefits drop by about $200 a month.”
Corlett said the enhanced payments, though designed to protect families during the pandemic, also helped cover the inflated costs of groceries.
“Families are going to be hard-pressed to figure out how they’re going to stretch that food a little further, particularly when prices are so high,” he said.
He anticipates emergency food assistance programs will see climbing demand as the emergency allotments end. The Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio is estimating a 20-30% jump in need after March. The organization is already serving 30% more clients compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
“Everybody’s going to have to sort of pitch in to do the best they can to help these families and help these older adults through a difficult situation,” Corlett said. “I don’t think we can sugarcoat it and say we’re going to make it up with private charity. We just can’t.”
He also expects grocery stores will see a drop in business when low-income families have less money to spend. Additionally, he thinks some people will experience health issues from inadequate nutrition.
Merrell said he’s already planning to get more of his family’s food from pantries and food banks in the coming months.
“They started something and got us adapted to it and used to it. Now they’re stopping it and it’s probably going to hurt a lot of families,” he said.
Corlett recommends families and individuals struggling with food assistance check their eligibility for SNAP benefits. Those already receiving benefits can work with a case manager to double-check they’re receiving the maximum payments for which they’re eligible.
You can find more information about Ohio’s SNAP benefits by clicking here.
If you need assistance, please call 216-738-2067.
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