When COVID-era “expanded” food benefits ended, food banks saw new surge in people
Doug Ramsay photo
Snohomish Community Food Bank volunteer Mike Manley talks helps a client with what's in one of the food bank's freezers during the food bank’s Friday, May 12 service time to shop for supplemental food.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Enhanced SNAP benefits were designed to give people extra allotments to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic, when life was full of uncertainty. But at the beginning of March, these additional SNAP benefits concluded, reverting back to pre-pandemic amounts. While SNAP benefits are back to normal, with the effect of inflation on everything from the price of housing to food, families are still struggling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices increased 8.3% over the course of 2022.
Food banks are seeing an increase in clients coming in for food.
Scott Rossiter, a senior director of Volunteers of America Western Washington, said at the Everett Food Bank, 857 more individuals were served in March than in the month of January. The Sultan Food Bank served 504 more clients during the same time.
“That is an additional 1,361 people who now visit our food banks monthly since the Enhanced SNAP benefits ended and this number continues to rise,” Rossiter said.
Matt Campbell, director of the Sky Valley Food Bank, said that in“the first quarter of this year we have seen a 22% increase in the number of households coming to the food bank.”
On March 25, the Snohomish Community Food Bank served 114 families, and is serving an average of 220 familes a week*, which increased from an average of 95 families less than two months ago. Food bank director Elizabeth Durand said the food bank has seen a 10% increase in clients in April.
“We are certainly seeing people that are saying ‘I never thought I would see myself at a food bank,’” Rossiter said.
Food banks have been able to provide for clients in spite of the increase, mostly because the local community is always willing to lend a helping hand when needed.
Durand has had no concerns of falling short of food, even with the effect of Enhanced SNAP benefits ending. The Snohomish Community Food Bank continues to receive donation after donation, leading to their stockroom being more full than it normally is.
“It is a good problem. I would much rather be dealing with, ‘what are we going to do for space’ than ‘what are we going to do about food.’ So, I am not unhappy at all,” Durand said.
When the food bank is running low on food, Durand appeals to the local community by sending out an All Points Bulletin and writing press releases. Recently, the food bank was running out of cereal boxes, which led Durand to issue an APB. Not only did they receive multiple boxes of cereal, but the food bank also received money to buy more cereal.
“It has happened more than a dozen times,” Durand said.
But the end of Enhanced SNAP is not the only new development that has occurred. To aid food assistance programs in the state, House Bill 1784 will appropriate $28 million to the State General Fund. The food assistance programs that will receive the funds are operated by the departments of health, agriculture, social and health services. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it April 13.
Concerning House Bill 1784, Rossiter said that “we are so grateful for the state legislature and the governor to speak to the need for this. What that means for our food pantries is that we will be receiving some items through increased purchases from the Department of Agriculture.”
The end of Enhanced SNAP benefits has put pressure on local food banks and their clients, especially with the impact of inflation affecting families who are already going through rough times. But with the help of local business and community members, the chance of running low on stock is incredibly low.
“We are so grateful for the amazing support from the community to come around during this time,” Rossiter said.
* - This story has been updated May 19 post-press with an additional figure from the Snohomish Community Food Bank.
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