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'It's ridiculous:' Hundreds of thousands of Cuyahoga County households prepare for looming SNAP benefit cuts

Area food pantries bracing for a spike in customers when COVID-19 SNAP benefits expire
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Posted at 5:14 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 19:02:20-05

CLEVELAND — Over 200,000 households will find it harder to pay for groceries starting March 1 when COVID-19 emergency snap benefits expire, according to Cuyahoga County Jobs and Family Services.

"It's ridiculous,” said Shelia Davis, SNAP recipient. “I know people just getting $20 for food stamps a month and I don't know how they're going to maintain."

For the last three years, SNAP recipients received two payments a month. March 1 is when COVID emergency snap benefits expire, and area food pantries are now bracing for a spike in customers.

Cars were lined up on the street and were circling around the parking lot at Forest Hills Church in Cleveland Heights for the Abundance Food Pantry drive.

“Today is a busy day,” said Paul Jennings, manager of the Abundance Food Drive.

Jennings said the large turnout is a clear indicator the emergency SNAP benefits are soon coming to an end.

“All that stuff is ringing out now and we are seeing already that it's gone up,” said Jennings. “Once it does run out, more people are going to show up.

Davis said not getting that extra payment each month, is going to hurt.

“It's been great, you know and when it ends, I don't know what I can buy with that,” said Davis.

Starting March 1 when those emergency benefits expire, Cuyahoga County Jobs and Family Services said that not just their clients, but everyone receiving SNAP benefits will only get their regular SNAP payment loaded to their EBT card the first half of the month. There will be no second payment later in the month.

“This is a huge impact to the community,” said Kevin Gowan, JFS Cuyahoga County administrator. “We are talking about $20 million, a little more, every month that's extra in snap benefits that's going out there."

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank said it's trying to help, but its local partners aren't prepared for the spike in customers. Inflated food costs and a decrease in donations aren't helping either.

“Food banks are simply not equipped to supplement,’ said Tiffany Scruggs, vice president of client services, Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

Scruggs believes the real problems won’t reveal themselves until after March 1, but in the meantime, GCFB is sending messaging to its partners to guide them through a potentially trying next couple months.

“We are mindful that post March 1st, we are more considered with the end of March, mid-March, but also when we think of local grocers and other places that accept EBT,” said Scruggs. What will that do in terms of their business model and the decrease revenue?”

Forrest Hills Church said it's going to focus on their food drives each week at a time.

“We just try to make sure we have enough food ordered and enough people here to help,” said Jennings.

And continue to be a pillar for community members, like Davis, when they're most vulnerable come March.

“This helps a lot and we are going to be super busy after February,” said Davis. “Everyone is going to be here then.”

If you are in need of food, click here.

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