Extra SNAP benefits are ending in the District of Columbia. (WI file photo)
Extra SNAP benefits are ending in the District of Columbia. (WI file photo)

District residents will see a decrease in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, as the Department of Human Services (DHS) has discontinued temporary emergency allotments provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The withdrawn funding presents both financial and nutritional challenges to families across the city.

Avy Brunson, a District resident who has received SNAP benefits for almost three years, said she is mildly concerned about the decrease in assistance as she has just started to feel a sense of financial stability since the health emergency. 

“The emergency funding was a big help for me at the time, especially when I got laid off from my job,” Brunson explained.  “I am back working again, but the extra money let me stretch my shopping out more.  Now I will have to be more cautious about what I buy since things are tightening back up.”  

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the provided benefits were deemed instrumental in alleviating food insecurity issues across the District, with a study estimating that emergency allotments kept 4.2 million people above the poverty line during the last quarter of 2021, simultaneously reducing poverty by 10%.  SNAP recipients who received an average monthly increase of roughly $251, can now see cuts as low as $23. 

Finding Salvage in the Financial Disparity

While residents of various age groups are facing the supplemental cuts, senior residents have become the demographic most affected by the change.  Across the District, the Legal Counsel for the Elderly, an offshoot of AARP, is working to alert senior residents of the new change in benefit packages, while suggesting productive ways to ensure they are receiving all available benefits.

“[Residents] want to check their [SNAP] balance either online, through the app, or by calling DHS. They want to reach out to DHS to ensure that they are maximizing their benefits, and they also want to check with their resources [including] the Capital Area Food Banks, and the food boxes [available] from Bread For The City to ensure that they are taking advantage of other resources to fill any gaps in their food budget,” said Robyn Griffin, senior attorney for the Legal Counsel for the Elderly.

Likewise, local dieticians like Charmaine Jones, registered dietician and founder of Food Jonezi, a consulting practice that specializes in nutrition counseling and education, wellness and prevention, and nutrition analysis, works heavily with District residents including those hit hardest by socioeconomic barriers.  Jones encourages residents and families to be mindful of the resources available in the city that can help to provide healthy food options, while also taking advantage of household items.

“Ask yourself, ‘with the items that I have in my kitchen, what can I create?’ Go and meal plan first, and if you have children and you don’t know what to eat, kids will tell you,” Jones explained.  “You can ask them, what do you want on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, and then as a family, come up with what types of meals and recipes you can eat.  Whatever ingredients you don’t have, that’s when you make your list, go to the grocery store, and stick with it.  It’s all about meal planning.” 

Jones enforces an often overlooked factor when examining food insecurity: the lack of education in what can be done with produce and food that is already in the kitchen or made available through District provided programs.

“There are a lot of programs out there that our community doesn’t know of.  I think that the main part of food insecurity is the lack of education and lack of knowledge of the resources that are out here,” said Jones.  “Working in the community, I’ve learned that there is a stigma about participating in those types of programs.  We have to educate our people to look at it as free produce [or food] that [is helping you] save money.  You have to reframe your mindset of thinking that it is a government handout, but [rather] something I am getting for free that is cutting down on my food budget.”

Local residents can receive more information on the Capital Area Food Bank’s Grocery Plus Program, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program by contacting phone number 202.644.9807.  Senior residents may also contact the Legal Counsel for the Elderly at 202.434.2120

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