Food aid is increasing, food banks are preparing for an uncertain future

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – Food banks in New Mexico with high rates of child poverty and hunger watch with concern as the federal government increases standard grocery stamp benefits and temporarily expands generous emergency quotas in October.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved a permanent 25% increase in food aid from pre-pandemic levels, available to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries across the country. The October 1 hike coincides with the phasing out of a smaller 15% increase in food aid ordered as a pandemic protection measure.

At the same time, emergency food aid grants will continue in most states, including New Mexico, but will expire when the public health emergency labels eventually end.

The allotment often doubles standard monthly benefits, and the potential expiry looms in New Mexico, where more than one in four residents relies on the federal government’s nutritional supplement program to bring groceries to the table, sparking shock waves through the personal and family finances of the table.

“We love when families – low-income families – have access to their own food. It is certainly a more dignified and respectful way to get the food your families need, ”said Sherry Hooper, executive director of The Food Depot, which acts as the last resort for 40,000 people in a sparsely populated area the size of West Virginia.

“The Food Depot is here to help if any of these benefits expire or if additional help is needed,” she said.

She said the pandemic had increased the number of people seeking help with essential foods by about 30% in her territory of northern and eastern New Mexico.

The federal government finances the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in full, without state matching funds.

Still, New Mexico lawmakers allocated $ 10 million for emergency food aid during legislative sessions in early 2021 and November 2020, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s government is campaigning for a more robust emergency nutrition package for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1 . 2022.

The pandemic was accompanied by an unprecedented spate of federal aid aimed at limiting disruption to housing, food security and the economy in general. However, some direct emergency aid for low-income households is already being implemented.

The federal government stopped its additional unemployment benefit of $ 300 per week in early September, which was paid out to around 50,000 residents. State finance authorities are sprinting to provide rental aid to people who have defaulted on payments to landlords, while a nationwide eviction moratorium remains in place for people who cannot afford rent.

In the food aid arena, about 540,000 people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in August in a state of 2.1 million people, according to the Human Services Department, which administers the federal nutritional services.

Agency spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis-Port says the household’s average SNAP benefit rose from $ 237 in July 2019 to $ 477 in July 2021 – and will rise higher in October.