NEWS Additional pandemic food stamp benefits expire in March


The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows states to apply for emergency grants for families participating in SNAP. As a result, ODJFS has been providing emergency grants to SNAP families since March 2020. Congress recently passed the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which ended the program.

The pandemic is largely over, but the fallout continues, and Gilbert said, “we just don’t know” how bad it will be for Butler County residents.

“Emergency grants are always temporary, but we still know it upsets recipients who depend on additional food assistance,” Gilbert said. “Especially as we look at high inflation and high costs.”

Grants began in March 2020, and through December, Butler County residents have received a total of $309.7 million in food stamp benefits, $121 million of which came from COVID benefits. Overall, Butler County spent $49.8 million on food stamps in 2019, jumping to $81.1 million in 2020 and $113.1 million in 2021.

Terry Perdue, executive director of Shared Harvest Foodbank, said rising food costs will exacerbate the difficulties posed by supplemental food stamps that are disappearing. He said he had just spent more than $200,000 on food, “which is not something we normally do, out of expectations.”

“One of the things we’ve been tracking for the past year is the increase in food costs, which means less food is available to these families, which forces them to come to our network of pantries,” Perdue said. “What this does for us at Shared Harvest is that we have to plan for our anticipated needs, which means we’ll be asking our funders for more food to mitigate that growth. That’s been a challenge.”

Relaxed Medicaid COVID-19 pandemic rules were also removed. At the height of the pandemic, Gilbert’s office did not allow dequalification of Medicaid recipients due to changes in circumstances, such as increased income or other variables.

Gilbert previously said in April 2020 that they had about 89,000 people using Medicaid pandemic benefits, compared to 106,000 in April last year.

exploreFood stamps and Medicaid pandemic relief benefits could extend into fall

“Medicaid will also be eliminated, but we’re still waiting for some guidance from the federal government on how to roll it out,” Gilbert said.

That, she said, could force her staff to “re-determine people’s eligibility” for Medicaid benefits.

The biggest impact will be on their food stamp customers, as greater benefits have become commonplace, she said.

“I think given that they’ve been receiving and relying on this extra food assistance for the past three years, they’ve built it into their monthly budget,” Gilbert said. “So I think every bit is really important right now.”

She said counties and states have no control over the rollback of these pandemic benefits, but she urged people to take advantage of the services offered by her OhioMeansJobs unit for training and job search help. She also asked people to consider increasing their donations to various food pantries and other aid agencies.

The backlog of applications for emergency rental assistance is more evidence that help for those in need remains, an impact of the pandemic.

The county received $20.4 million in emergency rent and utility assistance from the federal government. Butler County Commissioners work with support agencies to encourage low-income families (SELF) to administer the program.

Before the holidays, executive director Jeffrey Diver told Journal-News that it had provided $15.3 million to 2,472 needy families with the commission’s federal funds and $7.8 million to 2,346 families with other grants they had received.

Because they were inundated with new applications — the December backlog was about 450 — they had to pause accepting new applications again while helping those facing possible deportation.

The issue of food stamps is also tricky, Diver said.

“The concern is that any time support for low-income individuals and families is withdrawn, the question is how to make up for the additional support,” Diver said. “For many hard-working families, there is no choice but to work multiple jobs or long hours to support their families.”

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