As enhanced SNAP benefits end, Pa.’s First Lady stresses support for food banks

Wednesday Morning Coffee: ‘Having access to healthy food is essential to living a healthy, productive life,’ First Lady Lori Shapiro said

By: - February 22, 2023 7:12 am

Pa. First Lady Lori Shapiro volunteers at the Central Pa. Food Bank (Commonwealth of Pa. photo).

Just a week before the end of a pandemic-era program that helps Pennsylvanians cover their grocery bills, First Lady Lori Shapiro visited a Harrisburg-area food bank on Tuesday to encourage charitable support for the organizations.

“Having access to healthy food is essential to living a healthy, productive life and we must ensure that remains available across our Commonwealth,” Lori Shapiro said during her visit to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

“The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and their dedicated volunteers help Pennsylvania’s neighbors in need each and every day, and I’m inspired by their service to their community,” she continued.

Food banks are bracing for increased demand, thanks to a change in federal lawthat will see emergency allotment payments through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, come to an end at the end of February.

The program, which took effect in April 2020, increased monthly benefits to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish and Cassie Miller reported last week.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services distributed the emergency allocations as a second monthly payment to SNAP households, increasing their budget to the maximum available for their household size — or by $95 if they received the maximum available amount, Parish and Miller reported.

“We know additional SNAP payments have been a lifeline for our communities during the last nearly three years of the pandemic, and the upcoming federal changes will create uncertainty for many individuals and families,” Shapiro said

“In partnership with Pennsylvania’s charitable food network, our administration is working to make certain that our friends and neighbors are aware of these changes and will have ways to access the food they need and deserve,” she said.

Pennsylvania First Lady Lori Shapiro, right, works with Amy Torcoletti, Director of Engagement to the First Lady, left, and Barry Denk, volunteer, of Mechanicsburg, as they tape up boxes of food at Central Pennsylvania Food Bank on Tuesday, 2/2/21/23 (Commonwealth Media Services).

The reduction in benefits is “huge,” Joe Arthur, the executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, told the Capital-Star.

The food bank covers 27 counties. And Arthur estimated that the benefit reduction will total roughly $40 million per month.

“This loss of grocery purchasing power, about $105 on average per individual SNAP recipient per month, will impact hundreds of thousands of central Pennsylvanians in need and the grocery stores and food markets where they shop for food,” he said.

Colleen Young, director of government affairs for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, called the emergency allotments a “lifeline” for those who need help to afford food.

Young said her organization, which serves 11 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, expects to see demand only rise “as we go into March and beyond.”

Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s Ana Sides, volunteer projects coordinator, right, teaches Pennsylvania First Lady Lori Shapiro how to tape up boxes during a visit to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank on Tuesday, 2/21/23 (Commonwealth Media Services).

While Social Security recipients saw an 8.7 percent cost-of-living bump to their benefits, SNAP eligibility thresholds, which also are set at the federal level, did not rise proportionally, the Shapiro administration said in a statement.

Because of that change, approximately 249,000 households will see a decrease in their base SNAP benefits by an average of $40 per household, which will also take effect in March when the enhanced benefits end.

Between 5,000 and 20,000 households will be dropped from SNAP altogether due to the SSI benefits increase. These federal reductions mainly will affect older Pennsylvanians and seniors, the administration said

In its statement, the administration said the Department of Human Services has already mailed SNAP recipients statewide a letter detailing what is changing, and when and where they can turn for help. State lawmakers also have been briefed on the assistance that’s available to their constituents, the administration said.

“Organizations like the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank are preparing to meet the increased needs that will come with the reduction in SNAP benefits,” Lori Shapiro said. “I encourage everyone to support your local food bank and food pantry with food or resources. Every bit goes to support life-saving work.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.