Blair and his wife hop into their truck twice a month at 4 a.m. to ensure they get a few staples at the Hazel Green Food Project’s giveaway. On a recent Friday, they waited nine hours until local prisoners on work duty started loading bags of meat and vegetables, potato chips and cookies into vehicles in one of the nation’s most impoverished communities.
From the front to the back of the line, the sea of despair and hardship along this desolate Kentucky highway foreshadowed what may be in store for millions of Americans as the federal government ended the remaining pandemic increase in monthly food stamp benefits this week. -WaPo
'The Government Is Trying To Kill Us Now': Low-Income Americans Fume In Mile-Long Food Lines After Pandemic Benefits End
Over the past year, 18 US states have officially ended pandemic-era states of emergency - including the covid food benefit, while a December mandate from Congress will end aid in March for the other 32 states, along with the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and Guam.
The collective return to pre-pandemic policies includes enhanced unemployment benefits and child tax credits, as well as a rollback adjustment to Medicaid that boosted enrollment.
Now, people are waiting up to nine hours in mile-long lines for free food - some of whom say they can only afford to eat once per day, while others say they limit expensive food items such as meat for specific family members, such as growing teenage boys.
"I thought, ‘Wow, the government is trying to kill us now," said 63-year-old Danny Blair of Kentucky. Blair, who lives in a mobile home with his wife, survives on his Social Security disability check, the Washington Post reports.
"They are going to starve us out," Blair continued, apparently unaware that government assistance provided during the pandemic wasn't permanent.
As the Post frames it, the pullback of pandemic-related aid could pose a setback to the Biden administration's efforts to 'slash poverty' while building a 'healthier and more sustainable middle class' - none of which were the stated goals of the temporary aid.
"We saw positive benefits from this and less hardship, including for families with children," said Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who points out that all the free money helped reduce childhood poverty rates in 2021. "We can expect that to reverse now."
Following the reduction in benefits, the average SNAP recipient's benefits are expected to drop by around $90 per month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That said, an even greater reduction is in store for seniors and the working poor who receive assistance from other government programs, and will likely qualify for less.
In Kentucky, many seniors on food stamps saw their monthly benefit drop from $281 to $22 last year after the state ended the pandemic emergency in May, according to local food bank network, Feeding Kentucky.
Other states are preparing for the same
"We are bracing, and our agencies, member food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are not prepared for what is about to hit them,” Said Ohio Association of Foodbanks executive director, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. "This reduction, and end of the public health emergency, could not be coming at a worse time."
Even before the benefits retired this month in Ohio, Hamler-Fugitt said demand at food banks soared last year as retail food prices rose by 11.4 percent nationwide, more than five times the historical annual average. She said Ohio charities and foodbanks served 3.1 million people in the last quarter of 2022, which she called a record and about 600,000 more than were served during the same period in 2021.
Now, Hamler-Fugitt expects many of the state’s 1.5 million recipients will also be scrambling to find food assistance, adding she projects the benefit reductions will remove $120 million from Ohio’s retail economy each month. -WaPo
"We estimate we would have to increase our distribution by 15 times to even begin to address this, and we don’t have the resources to do that," said Hamler-Fugitt. "So hunger rates are going to increase among our seniors, and families, and our children are going to fall behind academically because they are not going to be able to concentrate on empty stomachs."
Is this practical?
In Kentucky, GOP lawmaker Sen. Donald Douglas said during debates that it wasn't practical to live "under a constant state of emergency."
"Let’s ask yourself, should SNAP benefits be a way of life?" he asked. "Now we know it is for some. Should it be a way of life for adults?"