Emergency SNAP benefits tied to pandemic ending at end of month

Mar. 23—Just as there's a difference between sports and esports, there is a difference between SNAP and E-SNAP.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a Department of Agriculture federal program designed to supplement food budgets for needy families so they can purchase healthy foods and move towards self-sufficiency, is not ending at the end of the month. Rather, E-SNAP, otherwise known as Emergency SNAP, is.

"It was started as a way to help families and individuals with the economic impact of COVID," said Suzi Nerison, human services director for Freeborn County. "That's the piece of the program that's going to be ending."

Within Minnesota, E-SNAP benefits qualified everyone to receive the maximum amount of benefits they could get, something people didn't normally receive.

"If their pre-COVID monthly food benefit was $300, it would have raised that to the maximum allowed," she said.

After the USDA, along with the appropriations bill that was passed by Congress, declared E-SNAP benefits would end nationwide regarding February eligibility (meaning E-SNAP payments would end in March), though 18 states had already ended E-SNAP.

And now that the offshoot is expiring, individuals and families already on SNAP will return to their standard benefit level.

Nerison said qualifying for SNAP varied by individuals and families and included a number of factors such as disability status, age, household size and who was in the house.

"Any family or any household, whether it's an individual or a family, will likely see at least some impact to what they have been receiving during COVID, during the public health emergency," she said. "Those benefit levels will decrease most likely for many people — just about everybody who's been receiving SNAP."

Those who use SNAP have received notices from the state that E-SNAP is ending, but SNAP won't end, meaning people won't have to re-apply.

People who already have unused benefits on the SNAP card from E-SNAP have up to nine months to use them from the date they received them, something she said could be helpful.

She said there was an increase among applications for SNAP benefits during the pandemic, and that higher number has remained "pretty steady."

According to Nerison, roughly 11% of Freeborn County residents receive SNAP benefits.

For those worried about acquiring food on a limited income, she pointed to other food resources in the area, including the Ecumenical Food Pantry, the Salvation Army Food Pantry and the Little Free Pantry. For a complete list, visit unitedwayfc.org/food. For people considering applying for SNAP benefits, visit mnbenefits.mn.gov. People can also visit the office, located at 203 W. Clark St. or call 507-377-5400.

Nerison admitted it could be an adjustment for some families.

"I just think it's important for people to understand that they will likely be seeing a decrease in their food benefit amount," she said. "If they have questions or if they need help meeting the needs of their family or themselves as far as food goes to call and we can help them find the resources that are needed."

Last February, 1,493 households within the county received SNAP benefits, spanning 3,085 adults and children. Anybody who qualified for SNAP benefits automatically qualified for E-SNAP.