Millions of Americans are facing a “hunger cliff”: 32 states are planning to cut food stamp payments starting in March.

The cuts will affect more than 30 million people who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in those states, according to the USDA. Among the states where recipients face cuts are California and Texas, which have the largest number of people on SNAP, with 5.1 million and 3.6 million recipients, respectively.

The cuts are due to the end of so-called emergency distributions that bolstered food stamp benefits at the start of the pandemic as Americans struggled with massive disruptions to the economy. While the U.S. is certainly on a more stable footing than it was in 2020, households are now struggling with higher food costs — groceries were about 10% higher in December than a year ago — making the timing of SNAP cuts especially difficult, experts say.

“This huge gap is coming to the vast majority of states, and people will lose an average of about $82 a month in SNAP benefits,” said Ellen Wollinger, director of SNAP at the Center for Food Research and Action, an anti-hunger group. “That’s a staggering number.”

That means a family of four could see their monthly benefits drop by about $328 a month. Older Americans who receive minimal monthly benefits may be hardest hit, Wollinger said. They could watch their SNAP payments drop from $281 to just $23 a month.

Meanwhile, 18 states have already ended their emergency distributions early, with some citing a stronger economy as the reason. However, in states like Georgia that have cut food aid, food banks have seen a surge in demand since June, when benefits were cut, according to Pew Research.

The remaining 32 states that continued to provide additional aid will lose that extra money in March because of a provision in the 2023 Omnibus spending bill signed into law in December that calls for an end to emergency allocations next month.

More than 40 million on food stamps

Despite the economic recovery, many Americans continue to struggle with food insecurity, experts say. Food stamp enrollment remains high, with 42 million people receiving benefits in October 2022, the latest available data, or 6% higher than in 2020, according to the USDA.

It may seem surprising that SNAP enrollment has increased, given that the nation’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high. the lowest since 1969, but many workers still can’t find full-time jobs or put in enough hours to pay the bills, Wallinger noted. Most working-age people who receive food stamps work, research found.

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“What’s sometimes missing from this conversation is that so many SNAP households are working, but often in low-wage jobs — they’re not in jobs that provide for a family, so they’re still eligible for SNAP.” , she added.

“getting ready for it”

Because the food stamp cuts weren’t signed into law until December, neither states nor individuals have had much time to prepare, critics say. One food stamp recipient in Colorado tweeted that she had been sent “tips” from the state on how to cope, such as stocking up on non-perishable foods, while she still has more aid.

“We’re cutting your food stamps and we know it’s going to be hard for you to survive, so here’s some advice, but don’t say we never did anything for you,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, food banks say they expect demand to increase as food aid is cut.

“People have to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent,” Erin Pulling, CEO of the Food Bank of the Rockies, told CBS Colorado. “We’re seeing more people than ever in need of food assistance.”

Of the food stamp cuts, Pulling said, “We’re getting ready for it.”

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