Vt. braces for reduction in SNAP benefits, prepares for debate over universal school meals
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont families who have been getting extra money for food assistance as a result of the pandemic will soon see their benefits cut dramatically. Starting in March, officials say SNAP recipients -- or what the state calls 3Squares -- will lose their extra monthly benefits, in some cases from a high of $280 down to less than $100.
“Every household gets a minimum of $95 a month and some households are receiving hundreds of dollars a month in these extra benefits. So, it’s going to be a big loss,” said Leslie Wisdom with the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
The recently approved Omnibus Appropriations Bill addressed many aspects of food insecurity but will also lead to the end of extended benefits by the end of March. “We have about 40,000 households with 70,000 individuals receiving 3Squares Vermont in Vermont and so those households will be losing these extra benefits,” Wisdom said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, SNAP recipients received boosted benefits through emergency allotments tied to the public health emergency declaration made by the federal government. Now, the feds say it’s time for those extra benefits to end in order to fund different programs.
“There is funding that is going to a permanent summer EBT program that starts in the summer of 2024. That is a program for children receiving free or reduced-price meals in schools to have a summer food benefit to ensure that that they have healthy, nutritious food over the summer while they’re not in school,” Wisdom said.
But in the meantime, many families will likely feel the pinch, and food shelves say they’re already preparing. “SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger and when there are cuts to SNAP, there are absolutely going to be increases in the charitable food access network around the state of Vermont. Two in five people in Vermont have experienced food insecurity in the last year and so that is only going to increase,” said Chris Meehan with the Vermont Foodbank. He says many had hoped the extra benefits would be made permanent. “As a society and country, we want this to be over. We want to be able to move forward from the pandemic, but the economic impacts are so great that we cannot turn our backs, and I think that’s one of the things that has been so frustrating.”
State officials say they understand the frustration but have no control over the allocation of federal dollars. “Both are important programs. Obviously, we want to make sure that kids are fed. We also want to support people during the pandemic -- we’re not quite out of that yet,” Wisdom said.
State officials say there will be an opportunity to address SNAP benefits when it comes time for Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill this year. In the meantime, they’re encouraging SNAP recipients to call DCF to see if there are any potential increases to their regular benefits due to decreased income or new expenses.
WILL VERMONT EXTEND UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEAL FUNDING?
While state officials prepare for the reduction in SNAP benefits, Vermont lawmakers are trying to figure out how to fund universal school meals.
The practice of funding the program started during the pandemic and was paid for with federal cash. Vermont lawmakers last year gave the green light to a one-year extension to school meals for K-12 students. Now, they’re looking for a permanent solution. The final price tag is expected to be around $23 million a year.
“It’s going to be a question about money for sure. Can we sustain this as a state? It would likely go on the Education Fund if we were to, and we will find out in the coming weeks if senators and the House and the governor are willing to take that step,” said Sen Brian Campion, D-Bennington County.
A spokesperson for Governor Scott says lawmakers should prioritize students who need help and says the governor won’t support new taxes to pay for meals for kids from well-off families.
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