By Celeste Varela
We hear it every day, and the stories are heartbreaking. Carlos, a neighbor served by El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, recently shared with us, “No puede ser (this can’t be),” he said, “what am I going to do now? The price of food is so high, the help went away at the worst time!”
This is just one voice of the 3.6 million people statewide who benefit from the food that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides, and who have seen their benefits drastically cut due to the reduction in SNAP Emergency Allotments.
This represents a significant loss of food assistance for the more than 155,000 El Paso County residents who participate in the program; leaving many like Carlos to struggle to afford nutritious food and pay for basic human needs like rent, utilities and medication.
Early in the pandemic, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed states to provide for the maximum amount of benefits for a household, regardless of the household’s income. While this maximum benefit gave struggling families some extra breathing room when it came to being able to put food on their tables, it was still not sufficient enough to provide all the food a household needs in a month.
Texas consistently opted in, providing emergency allotments to SNAP recipients as it recognized how helpful this could be for people facing increasing economic hardships due to the pandemic and allowed for greater access to the food needed to sustain health and well-being.
Today, families are still trying to fight their way back from the devastating effects that the pandemic took on their household’s physical and financial health. Inflation remains high as increases in the cost of food and utilities has led to more people to seek out emergency food from El Paso’s only food bank, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, and the food pantries it serves.
Add to these hardships the end of SNAP Emergency Allotments. The month of February 2023 was the final month of these additional dollars. What this means for families is a minimum $95 reduction to their monthly benefit amount, significantly cutting their benefits virtually overnight. For some families this reduction is much higher.
While the end to emergency allotments is assuredly hurting every SNAP recipient, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger has not wavered in its commitment to stand ready to serve and ensure that every person in our community has access to the benefits they need and are eligible for.
Because we understand how critical SNAP is in helping families put food on their tables and leave room to pay for basic needs, the food bank prioritized building up its social services team, increasing its ability to enroll and recertify more people than ever before.
Last year, as part of our vision to extend our reach into the community, the food bank launched a SNAP navigator partnership for outreach training in local schools and have staffed offsite “hubs” with our largest partners, providing onsite service from Vinton to San Elizario.
But food banks alone can’t make up for these losses, especially when donations of food and funds are down and the cost of operating is up. Add to this the global food shortage that makes it that much harder for the food bank to acquire the food it needs to keep up with the demand, which continues to be well above pre-pandemic levels.
If you or someone you know is enrolled in or might qualify for SNAP, empower yourself and them by doing everything to maximize eligibility and allotment levels. Go to elpasoansfightinghunger.org and click on “Get Help” for more information or to contact the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger social services team.
We can make SNAP work better. With the 88th Texas Legislature well underway, the El Paso delegation is working hard to strengthen and modernize the program. Go to elpasoansfightinghunger.org and click on “Advocate” to learn more, and contact your state lawmakers and urge them to support the common-sense solutions to make the SNAP program stronger for the individuals and families they serve.
Not sure who represents you? Find your representative by going to https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home.
Celeste Varela is director of government relations for El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank.