Fighting hunger, high prices amid SNAP benefit decrease

Fighting hunger, high prices amid SNAP benefit decrease

Inflation has been hitting wallets hard, especially when it comes to food. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates Americans are spending nearly 12 percent more on food each month than they were a year ago. According to federal labor data, grocery inflation picked up in January even as prices in the U.S. fell in other industries from the previous month. 

For the 2.8 million New Yorkers who rely on federal assistance, things are about to go from bad to worse. Starting in March, every household that receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits will begin to receive at least $95 less a month. Household size and income may result in an even larger decrease with some families receiving nearly $300 less per month. 

The change comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s temporary SNAP Emergency Allotment benefits — provided since early on during the pandemic to address food insecurity — expire at the end of the February.  In just a few days, eligible households will only receive regular monthly SNAP benefits. 

“That is a pretty serious hit to the family budget,” said Molly Nicol, CEO, Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, who anticipates a dramatic increase in the number of neighbors seeking food assistance as the emergency allotments end. 

Roughy 1.8 million New Yorkers are facing hunger — an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity, as defined by the USDA. Nearly 600,000 are children, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million Americans.

During the pandemic, the Regional Food Bank saw a large increase in those seeking help. It went from distributing 38 million pounds of food per year pre-COVID to 55.8 million pounds of food at the height of the pandemic. The food bank is now at about 50 million pounds per year.

“This means that hard working folks are finding it difficult to feed their families” Nicol said. “Additionally, it means that the Food Bank is also experiencing increased expenses associated with meeting the needs in our 23-county region.”

Food bank CEOs from the Northeast are meeting with USDA representatives in early March to advocate for more food donations and funding for Universal School Meals across the state. They are hoping to convince the federal government to increase SNAP benefits to what they were at the height of the pandemic, Nicol said. 

“The end of SNAP Emergency Allotments will hasten a hunger cliff for many New Yorkers,” said Krista Hesdorfer, MPA, government relations manager for Hunger Solutions New York, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to alleviating hunger in New York. 

This is a federal change, and local social services districts do not have control over it, Hesdorfer said. However, those who do receive SNAP benefits can report any changes — loss of income, increased housing costs, child support payments or allowable medical expenses —  to their local department of social services, which could result in an increase in normal monthly SNAP benefits, she said.

There are also programs available that enhance SNAP benefits, especially when used at farmers markets. Double Up Food Bucks NY, a program of the Field & Fork Network, has become a model for communities across the country. 

The Field & Fork Double Up Food Bucks NY program aims to connect communities throughout the state with sustainable food options by matching EBT or food stamp dollars spent on fruits and vegetables, up to $20 per day. The program provides a $1 to $1 match on SNAP eligible fruit and vegetable purchases at farmers markets, farm stands and select grocers throughout the state, including Honest Weight Food Co-op,  Schenectady Green Market, Can Stop Redemption in Troy, Capital Roots Mobile Markets and West Hill Farmers Market.

“When you couple (the expiration of extended benefits) with the current economic conditions, many low-income families will struggle to fill that gap. Double Up can be a part of the solution and help fill the gap with healthy locally grown produce,” said Lisa French, co-founder and executive director at Field & Fork Network. “Doubling the current $2 million funding to $4 million means the program can provide a critical resource for these families.”

To date, more than $8 million SNAP Double Up dollars have been spent on fresh produce to help alleviate food insecurity. The benefits extend beyond consumers. Purchases support more than 400 farmers who participate in the program. And, roughly $2.8 million SNAP and Double Up dollars have been spent at stores throughout the state.  

In addition to Double Up Food Bucks, there are programs that help New Yorkers put fresh food on the table. Low income seniors and those receiving WIC benefits may be eligible to receive New York State Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs coupons that can be used at participating farmers markets and farm stands. SNAP-to-Market is another program that distributes FreshConnect Checks in addition to the SNAP benefit. For every $5 in SNAP benefits a customer exchanges for wooden tokens, the manager may issue a $2 FreshConnect Check to be used on any SNAP eligible food item.

In the News: New Yorkers Highlight Opportunities to Grow SNAP Incentives

Original Source: National Resources Defense Council – – Article Published by Sahana Rao, Margaret Brown & Sara Imperiale at

Link to full article: New Yorkers Highlight Opportunities to Grow SNAP Incentives | NRDC

According to – this blog is the first in a series sharing themes and lessons learned from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s research on SNAP and SNAP incentive programs in New York State over the past two years.

People of color and low-income people around the country are disproportionately exposed to environmental burdens. These inequalities are determinative of nearly all aspects of life, including whether families are food secure—meaning whether food is available in nearby, accessible stores, whether it is affordable, and whether it is culturally appropriate.

In New York, more than 10 percent of households are food insecure. Nationally, food insecurity is increasing, amidst inflation and waning Covid support programs. And Black and Latinx adults face food insecurity at disparately high rates – 29 and 32 percent, respectively, compared with 17 percent of white adults.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides money for food to individuals and households who meet certain eligibility criteria based on income. As of January 2023, SNAP serves over 42 million people in the United States. In New York, just over 2.8 million people rely on SNAP benefits—up 3.5 percent from last year. For the most recent fiscal year with data available, more than 54 percent of SNAP participants in New York were families with children, while almost 48 percent of New York SNAP users were in families with members who are seniors or disabled.

While SNAP is vital, this framework alone cannot satisfy the need for affordable, accessible, and healthy food for all. To truly fix the hunger crisis, we must address its root causes, including systemic racism, the racial wealth gap, and a food system that benefits corporations at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

Despite these systemic inequalities, there is still value in determining how best to strengthen and expand SNAP to ensure that all who are eligible can obtain benefits and use them to purchase healthy and culturally appropriate food. And it’s important to consider how these programs can be better used to build wealth in low-income communities.

Many states, including New York, have created SNAP incentive programs that increase the value of SNAP dollars when they are spent in certain ways, often at farmers markets. These programs offer states the opportunity to leverage federal funds to provide residents with additional money to purchase food, and to simultaneously support local farms and economies. The potential impact is significant, as each of the 2.8 million people in New York who use SNAP may be eligible for SNAP incentive programs, offering increased purchasing power for millions of low-income New Yorkers and harnessing a massive federal safety net for local economies.

Over the past two years, NRDC has gathered both experiential and quantitative data about where and how people use SNAP incentives in New York—and what factors might limit the success of these programs. This is the first in a series of blogs sharing NRDC’s findings, starting with themes from a series of interviews conducted with New Yorkers who have experience navigating SNAP and SNAP incentive programs, ranging from staff at community gardens and local pantries to college students and farmers market managers.

SNAP Incentive Programs in New York State

There are three primary SNAP incentive programs that operate in New York – Field and Fork’s Double Up Food Bucks, New York City’s Health Bucks, and New York State’s Fresh Connect Checks. These three programs differ in how they are funded, how they operate, and what geographies they serve within the state. The interview reflections touch on the overall experience of using SNAP incentives in New York rather than any one specific program.

While this blog focuses on the SNAP incentive program experience in New York, we heard repeatedly about threshold issues with the federal SNAP program and how it is administered in New York—including significant barriers to enrollment and ease of use in retail environments. These challenges spill over into and limit the efficacy of SNAP incentive programs in the state, but they are not the topic of this specific blog. We strongly support improvements to the SNAP program at the federal and state level – as called for by numerous community-based and national organizations.

SNAP Incentive Programs Help Promote Food Security

New Yorkers want to buy fresh, healthy foods

In interviews about SNAP and SNAP incentive programs, we heard repeatedly that community members who use these benefits are interested in eating fresh fruits and vegetables. As Valerie, a project coordinator for a university advocacy group, said, “There’s this misconception that poor people don’t want to eat vegetables and that’s not true. Why would people think that? Everyone wants to eat vegetables, like some people might have preferences on what kinds of vegetables or how they’re prepared….” Similarly, Finn Brigham at Callen-Lorde Center described the excitement people expressed at having access to fresh produce. “I think when I would tell patients that they could use their SNAP benefits, it was like their faces would light up and they’d run and grab their card because they just thought there was something that they couldn’t access or they couldn’t afford.” These programs are powerful tools in increasing the purchasing power of low-income shoppers, helping more families afford the fruits and vegetables they want to eat.

SNAP benefits alone are not meeting household need      

Federal SNAP benefits alone are simply not sufficient to meet users’ needs. Despite small but meaningful increases in SNAP benefits following the 2021 update of the Thrifty Food Plan, many SNAP recipients struggle to afford fresh fruits and vegetables. We repeatedly heard through interviews that cost is a barrier to purchasing produce, and this bears out in data at the national level as well. Abigail, who manages programming at a culinary community center, explained that “affordability remains a central barrier to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. There are many times that the benefits are not enough to purchase produce for the whole month or purchase for a household of 2, 3, 4 people.” A farmers market manager in the Bronx put it clearly, stating “I really think people don’t get enough SNAP benefits. And I see when people can buy more vegetables, they buy more vegetables…If [they] don’t have the money to eat well, they aren’t going to eat well.”

One market manager shared insight from the retailer perspective, illustrating how consistently insufficient benefits limit families’ abilities to purchase food. As she described it, “EBT cards are loaded at the beginning of the month, so a significant amount of people come to the market at the beginning of the month, but by the end of the month there is much lower foot traffic.”

With SNAP users demonstrating a strong interest in purchasing fruits and vegetables, and real limitations around affordability of these products, SNAP incentives offer a way for low-income families to purchase more fresh produce. At the same time, SNAP incentive programs also hold enormous potential for local farmers and economies.

New York’s SNAP Incentive Programs Are Not Meeting Their Full Potential

Many potential program beneficiaries are unaware of SNAP incentive programs

The interviews highlighted that many New Yorkers are not aware of SNAP incentive programs, both at an organizational and individual level. Despite working in food and food related organizations in low-income communities, a number of the people we spoke with were simply not familiar with any of the SNAP incentive programs operating in New York. Others were aware of one or more SNAP incentive programs but felt that many of their community members were not familiar with the programs and that their organizations lacked the resources to meaningfully spread the word about SNAP incentives. Several people suggested that more outreach – in accessible and multilingual formats—to low-income communities and community-based organizations about these powerful programs could go a long way in increasing their use.

SNAP incentive programs can be cumbersome to use and to administer

Individuals who are well-versed in New York’s SNAP incentive programs shared that the way the programs are currently administered presents several challenges for consumers and retailers alike.

First, the relative complexity of the program details (e.g., how many incentives you get per SNAP dollar spent, what products the incentives can be used to purchase, etc.) can make it hard for customers to understand the programs and for retailers to administer them. Elizabeth Winn, the Food Access Coordinator for Kingston Farmers Market, explained, “A big challenge that we face, [is] just not having enough people trained to run the [SNAP and SNAP incentive] services that we provide,” adding that it’s a matter of “really understanding what they’re utilizing and then…really just not having enough hands to feel like it can run smoothly.” Clearly explaining how SNAP incentive programs work to customers isn’t easy, especially when people are rushing to do their shopping or if there is a language barrier. This problem is exacerbated if markets shift between two different incentive programs, either from year to year or over the course of a season, or offer two similar but slightly different incentives (e.g., offering a farmers market nutrition program coupon that is not directly tied to SNAP benefits).

Second, programs relying on physical vouchers like paper coupons or tokens can be difficult to manage. At a farm market in the South Bronx, the market manager found SNAP incentive coupons quite cumbersome, both for the market and the customer. Paper coupons can require complicated record keeping for the market, creating unnecessary administrative hurdles during busy market times, especially when juggling multiple incentive programs. Additionally, customers do not always use their SNAP incentives the same day they accrue, making it more likely that families will misplace the physical vouchers or forget to bring them to the market on their next visit.

Several people interviewed who are familiar with the programs suggested that having SNAP incentives loaded back onto beneficiaries’ Electronic Benefit Transfer cards would simplify things for customers and retailers.  This meaningful improvement has been made successfully in other states.

When designed in partnership with the communities that rely on these programs, SNAP incentives play an essential role in addressing challenges around fresh, healthy food affordability and access, provide much needed markets for local farmers, and drive local economic development. The next blog in this series will examine disparities in geographic access to SNAP incentives across New York State.

This article was written and posted by: New Yorkers Highlight Opportunities to Grow SNAP Incentives | NRDC