Extended SNAP benefits end, putting more pressure on food pantries

March is almost over, which means pandemic-era federal food funding is too, but what does that mean for local food banks.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 5:56 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - March is almost over, which means pandemic-era federal food funding is, too, but what does that mean for local food banks?

SNAP benefits, also called 3SquaresVT, give payments to families looking for food assistance. Extra benefits were given out starting in March 2020. According to the state, these benefits have reached over 40,000 households. Now, more families may be turning to food shelves for help.

Sierra Davis of St. Albans started receiving food assistance almost a year ago. “It’s been helpful at first, but now it’s gonna definitely be a struggle,” said Davis.

She gets delivery from Feeding Chittenden and stops by her local food shelf when needed. Davis and her family are moving from a hotel to an apartment, now paying rent while simultaneously losing additional federal funding for food. “I’m gonna have to take what I have for food and just go get what I have to and then try to stock up,” said Davis

Davis is one of 68,000 Vermonters who have received SNAP benefits. And even with that funding, food shelves say the demand in recent years has been unprecedented.

Aunt Dot’s in Essex is one place where they’ve had an increase in clients every year. “A lot of our clients work almost full-time jobs, but they don’t make a livable wage. And then we don’t have enough affordable housing. So, a huge portion of their money goes to rent and they have less for food. prescription medicines are expensive,” said Sue Miyamoto with Aunt Dot’s Place.

At the Colchester Food Shelf, Marcia Devino says last December, January, and February they saw 267 clients. This year they saw 100 more for those same months, “We practically get at least two or three new clients every week. And right now we’re just open for six hours on Wednesdays and we’re open the first Saturdays,” said Devino.

Despite the high demand -- coupled with a time of pandemic problems like staffing and supply chain issues -- Devino said their volunteer numbers are solid and they haven’t had trouble finding food over the years. “I think we got 22,000 pounds of food donated from citizens last year,” said Devino.

At South Burlington, volunteer Linda Chisson says they have around eight volunteers for the roughly 30 or so clients that stop by during a two-hour window, many of whom line up early. “It’s easier to take a few of them through at 20 minutes of four or quarter of four, rather than make them wait because otherwise we have 10 people at once and we want to give them time,” said Chisson.

She adds that at one time, Vermonters could go to any food shelf they pleased, but the demand has gotten so high that now food shelves will make sure to only serve those who live in the town where they’re based.

Food shelf workers say that despite the demand already being high, they’re ready to take on more Vermonters. “A family on 3SquaresVT is losing $95 a month -- that’s a lot of money. So, all the food shops are expecting an increase because those supports have gone away. So, we’re prepared for that,” said Miyamoto.

Locally, Vermont extended funding for universal school meals last year, another pandemic program that was federal but is now state funded. A bill to make that funding permanent has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

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