Vt. lawmakers stand firm against replacing pandemic food program funding
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - As federal American Rescue Plan funds dry up, food stamps and other programs that benefited from the extra cash are preparing to make do with less. And many groups are looking to the state to try and help make up the difference.
“The ending of all the federal programs are definitely exposing the cracks in our systems,” said John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank.
Starting in March, officials say SNAP recipients -- or what the state calls 3SquaresVT -- will return to pre-pandemic levels. In some cases, people could go from receiving a high of $280, down to less than $100.
Anti-hunger advocates say the money is running out at a time when support has never been needed more. “People in our state have reported themselves that 40% of them -- two in five -- have experienced food insecurity over the past 12 months, and that’s a very high number. That is the highest percentage of people reporting food insecurity in our state that we have ever recorded,” said Anore Horton with Hunger Free Vermont.
Advocates say the SNAP cuts are just the latest impact the state is seeing as federal pandemic dollars dry up, and they’re requesting lawmakers find a way to pick up the slack with state money. “We have a moral and ethical obligation to do really the bare minimum, you know -- universal school meals -- $3 million for the Foodbank, $3 million for the ‘triple A’s,’ and really getting engaged in the federal Farm Bill process,” Sayles said.
The state received approximately $10.9 billion in federal support during the pandemic and lawmakers say it’s just not feasible to expect the state to step in. “The state of Vermont does not have the capacity to simply backfill the funding that has come into the state as a result of the pandemic,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County, who chairs the Appropriations Committee. She says that spending of federal pandemic dollars needs to be seen as a one-time deal. “I think that is the fiscal reality.”
Lawmakers and anti-hunger advocates say despite all the talk about reduced funding, 3SquaresVT is not going away and that Vermonters in need should still reach out to them for help.
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