116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Food pantries and not-for-profits that work to address food insecurity are anticipating a surge in demand for their services as expanded food benefits in Iowa now have ended.
Iowa in February ended its coronavirus disaster proclamation and, in doing so, the state opted out of a federal emergency allotment provision that allowed households to receive the maximum benefit available under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The end of expanded food assistance also comes as Iowans and others around the country are facing rising prices at the grocery store and at the gas pump, but in many cases, are not seeing much change in their paychecks.
As a result, food pantries in Eastern Iowa are preparing for an influx of clients in need.
“We are definitely planning for an increase in need, and we’re already starting to hear from folks coming in asking to take a couple extra cans so they can stock-up,” said Kaila Rome, executive director of the North Liberty Community Pantry. “I know of a few families who are single-parent, one-child households that are losing over $200 a month.”
SNAP benefits drop 43%
Iowa is among a growing number of states ending participation in federal pandemic-related aid programs, which resulted in a dramatic increase in food assistance for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.
SNAP benefits returned Friday to their normal, pre-pandemic levels. Total state allocations will decrease by nearly 43 percent, or by about $29.5 million, according to the Iowa Hunger Coalition.
More than 141,000 households — which represents about 287,000 Iowans — receive SNAP benefits, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services. Food assistance varies per household based on the size, income and other factors.
The average monthly household SNAP benefit was $475 as of this past February, the latest data available from the state shows. By comparison, the average benefit was $220 in March 2020, before the disaster proclamation.
At a minimum, each household will see $95 less per month starting in April, but many will experience “an even greater reduction in benefits,” said Natalie Veldhouse, chair of the Iowa Hunger Coalition. In a news release this week, the coalition pointed to Cecelia Proffit, an Iowa City woman who said her family of four will see a $254 cut in SNAP benefits starting this month.
Federal officials first expanded benefits in the spring of 2020. In Iowa, the average SNAP benefit rose to $352 by May 2020, state data shows.
Food assistance benefits were permanently increased by the federal government in October 2021, resulting in a 25 to 27 percent increase in benefits to Iowa households, Radio Iowa reported. That brought the monthly average payment to $486 per qualifying household in Iowa.
Food pantries increase stock
With the increased food assistance ending, Rome said the North Liberty Community Pantry expects to see a 20 percent increase in demand for services this month — equal to the drop in demand officials saw in spring 2020. In total, officials at the North Liberty food pantry expect to serve about 800 families this year.
The CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank in Iowa City also expects to see a return to pre-pandemic levels in demand, which is about 5,200 families served per year, said Julia Winter, director of development.
“We were able to meet people’s needs the last two years because they were not relying on supplemental food pantries for their grocery needs,” Winter said. “Now with state retracting that support, it becomes a community issue again.”
Providing the maximum benefit allowed many families to catch up on bills or even get ahead financially, a major boost for families when the unemployment rate in Iowa was reaching record highs at the start of the pandemic.
“Some families may be in a better place because of that and may not return, but many families are still working in minimum-wage jobs,” Rome said. “But with the cost of milk and eggs and tuna and other things has gone up so much, losing (food assistance) benefits is going to have a negative impact.”
This also comes as the end of the school year approaches, and families will no longer have the benefit of their children’s schools providing breakfast and lunch during the summertime, Rome said.
Food costs, gas prices have ‘domino affect’
Because of supply chain issues and increasing costs, food pantries statewide are already struggling to meet the existing need, said John Boller, executive director of the Coralville Community Food Pantry.
“Unless something changes, once SNAP allotments decrease significantly in April, we will very likely see longer lines, food shortages and worker burnout in the nonprofit anti-hunger sector,” he said.
Eastern Iowa food pantries are supplied by the HACAP Food Reservoir, which distributes donations from retail grocery stores and food producers as well as allocations from wholesale purchases. However, supply chain issues and increasing costs are having a domino effect this food system.
Rising gas prices has meant HACAP has had to pay more out-of-pocket for transportation of donations — in some cases, more than double for even a trip across town, said Kim Guardado, director of the HACAP Food Reservoir.
In addition, officials have seen fewer donations from retail partners. Grocery stores have less supply on hand because of supply chain challenges, meaning there’s less to donate, Guardado said.
Local food pantries and food banks are asking for more donations and volunteers in the coming weeks and months to help this rising demand.
“If you think you don’t see hunger in your neighborhood, it’s because it’s not something you can see,” Guardado said. “It could be your child’s friend at school, someone you sit with at church, or maybe someone you say ‘hi’ to in the grocery store. Someone facing hunger doesn’t look any different from the rest of us. Because of that, it’s easy to overlook the need in our community.”
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