By Kerria Weaver
Extra food benefits for North Carolina’s poorest residents will come to an end in March as grocery prices remain high.
Recipients of Food and Nutrition Services, commonly called food stamps, will no longer receive extra benefits the federal government had put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decrease could have drastic impacts on families, who have received at least $95 in additional food benefits since March 2020, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. A family of four could see a drop from about $974 a month to $654 a month in food benefits, data shows.
Meanwhile, it has become more costly to prepare meals. The price of eggs increased by about 70% in the year ending Jan. 31. Milk prices increased by 38% year over year.
Wallyce Todd, founder and executive director of Community CPR in Whiteville, said many families with children who receive free meals at school had a hard time during the pandemic when schools switched to remote learning.
“And so there was an increased need for many families to make sure that their children are receiving good nutrition, for being able to learn at home,” she said.
With schools back to in-person learning, a weight has been lifted for some families, Todd said. But many are still struggling.
“The issue of food scarcity in Columbus County, in any area where we do have hunger, where we do have families that are limited in resources to provide healthy food for the whole family, we need to look at long-term solutions instead of short-term solutions,” Todd said.
Here’s what to know as extra food benefits come to an end.
How many people receive food benefits in North Carolina?
In fiscal year 2022, about 1.6 million, or 15% of North Carolinians, participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a version of Food and Nutrition Services. More than 69% of SNAP recipients were in families with children, according to state data.
In North Carolina’s Border Belt, Robeson, Scotland, Bladen and Columbus counties are among the poorest in the state. In April 2020, near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1,900 people in Robeson County applied for food assistance, data shows. That was up from about 1,390 in January 2020.
Why are benefits being reduced now?
Emergency allotments were temporarily put in place by Congress to help low-income households during the pandemic. The allotments end for all states in March.
Will I continue to receive regular benefits?
Yes. Individuals and families will receive benefits as they did before the pandemic, with the amount varying based on household income, the number of people in the family and current eligibility.
How do I check how much food assistance I have?
Individuals enrolled in FNS can view their regular benefit amount online here.
I can’t afford to feed my family without the extra benefits. What should I do?
Local food banks can be valuable resources. Check out a list of food banks at https://nc211.org, or call 211.
The Border Belt Independent compiled a list of local resources here.
My family has enough to eat. How can I help others in my community?
Local food banks accept donations and often need volunteers. A list of local food banks and pantries can be found at the above link.
The Robeson County Church and Community Center accepts online donations at https://robesontogether.org/donate.