Pandemic food benefits slashed for 350,000 Arizona families

Food banks are expecting a higher demand as pandemic programs and funding end.
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 2:02 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Pandemic-era emergency food benefits for hundreds of thousands of Arizonans are ending, and food banks are already facing a spike in the number of families who need help.

Robert Parker, a retired heavy equipment operator from Payson, recently received a letter from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which noted a dramatic change to his monthly budget. “[The letter] says my food stamps were going to be cut from $230 to $20 a month,” Parker told 3 On Your Side. “Which, with today’s inflation, leaves me kind of in a pickle.”

According to data from DES, more than 350,000 families in Arizona received Nutrition Assistance Emergency Allotments in addition to regular SNAP benefits for food. States administer the federal money. Brett Bezio, a spokesperson for DES, said households that qualified for food assistance received an average of about $200 a month in emergency benefits. “During the Arizona Public Health Emergency, eligible Arizona households have been receiving Nutrition Assistance (NA) Emergency Allotments in addition to their current monthly NA benefit amount to help address temporary food needs during the public health emergency,” Bezio wrote in an email. Arizona’s state of emergency expired on March 30, 2022, and DES made its final emergency allotment benefits payments in April.

Parker says the cuts happened at exactly the wrong time, as inflation soars. Food prices have jumped almost 9%, according to the most recent consumer price index (CPI). “I’m going to be eating a lot more vegetarian-type dinners,” Parker said. “I knew it was going to end at some point. I didn’t know when, but as the time grew on, I thought, ‘It’s not going to end,’ and I became not necessarily reliant on it, but now that they take it away, you don’t know how much you miss somebody until they’re gone.”

The cuts are already driving up demand at St. Mary’s Food Bank, which provides more than 300,000 meals to Arizonans every day. “Right now, what we’re seeing is a 10% to 15% jump,” said Jerry Brown, a spokesperson for the organization. “We’re probably going to see an even more of a jump. Not only do you not have those funds anymore to pay for the food, but the food that you are buying has gone up a considerable amount, so it’s a double whammy for families.”

At the same time, the food bank is experiencing its own double whammy. “Some of the food that we received during COVID is also not coming to the food banks anymore. Some of the federal programs that helped us have extra food on hand to help the people who needed it during the pandemic, those are starting to end, as well,” Brown said. “We’re definitely in a situation where we have less food to hand out than we did in the last year or two, but the number of people that we’re helping may be on the rise.”

For Parker, the adjustment felt abrupt. “I’ll make it work,” Parker said. “I just have to get back to budgeting.”