Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in Maryland and Virginia are now set to retain access to emergency funds made available during the pandemic through at least the end of the year.
During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created a waiver so that states could receive an “emergency allotment” of federal funds, meaning those who received SNAP benefits — formerly called food stamps — would receive the maximum amount available, as opposed to what they would have otherwise qualified for.
D.C., Maryland and Virginia had all been participating in the program, but it appeared in early October that they would no longer receive the emergency allotment.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) told WTOP that emergency allotments will continue for SNAP recipients in the commonwealth, and that October benefits will be distributed on Oct. 16.
“The enhanced SNAP benefit is made available through a public health emergency declaration that requires government agencies to request an extension of emergency allotment issuances on a month-to-month basis,” DSS said in a statement Tuesday. “Accordingly, the status of future emergency allotment benefits will be determined by this monthly approval process.”
Virginia will continue to request the emergency funds for as long as it is available and the commonwealth meets the criteria set by the USDA, the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) told WTOP that the District had been approved for the emergency SNAP funds, but that November 2021 would be the “phase-out” month if D.C.’s Public Emergency is not extended beyond October.
However, November may not necessarily be the end of the emergency allotment for D.C. The spokesperson for DHS said the District would continue to apply for the SNAP emergency allotments “using whatever authority is available to us and acceptable to the USDA.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that the District would be extending its Public Emergency into 2022.
Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, told WTOP that Maryland’s withdrawal from the program stemmed from a misunderstanding of the conditions under which the funds from the Agriculture Department are accessible.
“Maryland, thought or believed that, because they had ended their State of Emergency, that they were no longer eligible to continue utilizing these waivers,” Wilson said. He said Maryland Hunger Solutions contacted the state telling them that this was incorrect, and eventually the state applied for the waiver once more.
Some Maryland residents reported getting notices telling them the amount of funds they received through SNAP benefits would soon be reduced, according to Wilson.
“We’ve seen notices that say, ‘Instead of getting $200 a month, you’re going to get $20 a month,’ Wilson said. “And so people were rightfully very concerned, very worried.”
Maryland has been approved to continue receiving the emergency allotment through the end of the year, but it is not yet known how far beyond the funds will be available to Marylanders.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday that Maryland was approved for emergency allotment funds for SNAP recipients for the month of October. Residents who have already received October benefits will have the additional funds added to their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards by Oct. 12, 2021.
Wilson said Marylanders who rely on SNAP benefits as they are now will experience challenges when the program comes to an end, but that he hopes federal agencies look at providing more permanent programs to help address food insecurity.
“The teachable moment here is that SNAP is an insufficient program in many ways. For anyone to thinks that anybody could subsist on a $20 a month benefit is amazing and really dispiriting,” he said. “And so while we understand that the benefits will not continue at the level they are, we hope that USDA and the states that administer the program will look more thoughtfully at how we can provide food and food security for folks who are challenged with poverty.”
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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.
WTOP’s Nick Ianelli contributed to this report.