Food pantries expect more visitors if Congress changes food stamps formula

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – Kayla Darby receives SNAP benefits at the beginning of the month, but with four kids, she needs additional support.

“It doesn’t get us through the full month, so I have to come down here,” Darby said. 

She’s referring to the Athens County Food Pantry, which she visits once a month, usually the week before her SNAP benefits reset. 

Pantry President Karin Bright sees over 700 people a month, but those numbers could increase if Congress limits funding to SNAP benefits. 

“When (benefits) go up, our numbers tend to go down; when they go down, our numbers go up,” Bright said. 

The House markup of the 2024 farm bill would freeze a key metric that evaluates the cost of buying healthy food and is used to help calculate SNAP benefits. 

Freezing the Thrifty Food Plan would cut about $30 billion in SNAP benefits over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

Instead of evaluating the cost of a healthy diet, SNAP benefits would only be adjusted for inflation.

“If they continue to base the SNAP benefits on what it is now, in a year or two it will be way off and it’s just going to mean less buying power for those food stamps,” Bright said. 

Sarah Kuhns, Ohio Food Bank advocacy and engagement manager, is worried about what not keeping up with the cost of nutritional food could lead to. 

“This may impact SNAP’s ability to remain nimble, and would really hamstring its ability to be an effective and critical nutrition program that families rely on monthly,” Kuhns said. 

The less SNAP benefits people have, the more people use food pantries. Kuhns would like Congress to double the funds for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, known as TEFAP, which is also funded by the farm bill. 

Eva Bloom, Southeast Ohio Food Bank development director, said TEFAP provides food banks with supplies they distribute to pantries. 

“Without a strong TEFAP, we are not going to be able to meet the needs of those who are seeking assistance from us and the pantries that we supply,” Bloom said. 

The bank supplied about 4.6 million meals to families across southeast Ohio in 2023, Bloom said. A majority of that came from the federal program. 

While TEFAP is supposed to get a modest increase, it may not be enough, Bloom said. 

“There’s concerns that we will not have the level of increase that really fits the need that we’re seeing,” Bloom said. “That puts us and our pantries in a very difficult situation of saying, ‘I’m going to provide less every time someone comes to see me.’”