In March 2023, the pandemic-era increases to benefits offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ended in most states, substantially reducing the monthly dollar amounts many food-insecure households receive to buy food. Together with inflated food costs, the end of the emergency allotments—and revised work requirements for SNAP—means many people across the U.S. are struggling to put food on the table.
To understand how this combination of factors is affecting the day-to-day lives of Americans, we spoke with four people—two food-assistance recipients, a farmworker who produces food she is not able to afford herself, and a school food professional—about what the dismantling of the food safety net means for them.
Kyler Daniels, SNAP Recipient
By CHRISTINA COOKE
Kyler Daniels lives in North Carolina with her boyfriend and 4-year-old toddler, where she works for Down East Partnership for Children while completing her Master’s degree in social work. She has been receiving SNAP benefits since 2019.
When you were getting SNAP originally, what difference did that make for you and your family?
It was security for us. We started off getting about $212 or $215 each month. Then three or four months later, we started getting the maximum amount for our household because of COVID. Then we were earning about $600 total. We didn’t have to worry about meals. We didn’t have to worry about supplementing.
We could get our daughter the snacks she wanted—the fruit cups, yogurt, and applesauce. We could engage her in the shopping experience without having to worry about how much things were going to cost.
You said in April, you received $31 in SNAP benefits, and in May, you did not receive any benefits at all. What types of shopping decisions are you having to make given this decrease in support now?
Now, I go into the grocery store and try to crunch numbers. You don’t want to get up [to the register] and overspend and then have to go back and decide what to do.
At the beginning of the month, we look at what we have. . . [and] decide right then how much we’re going to take off for food after we pay the bills that need to get paid. If there is a bill we don’t have enough money for, we decide which one we will we get less penalties from—which one will work with us, which one will extend the deadline.
When I know we need it, I will [pick up shifts driving] for DoorDash. But then I’m tired all the time—when do we get to sleep?
I imagine access to healthier food is harder right now.
Yeah, definitely. Inflation has really hiked up the prices on things. Trying to get lettuce for a salad, or organic foods is higher. So, we don’t do that as often.
How does your daughter complicate the decisions that you’re making around food?
We wouldn’t eat at times to make sure that she had food—or we’d just eat noodles, something quick that we can make at the house—to make sure she can eat what she wants. She’s a picky eater. I don’t want to force her to eat something that she doesn’t like and then see her be hungry.
Are there challenges to navigating the benefit system? Did you run into any stumbling blocks?
I have never been 100 percent sure about why I received the benefits that I did. The application is not user-friendly. I am college-educated, getting a master’s degree, and there are things on there I don’t understand. For the average American, trying to get those benefits—and already being stressed out about needing them, with the negative stigma that goes along with it—is frustrating enough.
Can you describe the emotional toll on you?
Emotionally, there will be times where I would feel like a failure because we’re very low [on money], and it’s not the end of the month [so I’m not] about to get paid. It’s like, what do we do now? We’re constantly encouraging each other and ourselves to keep going. Nobody should have to deal with that on a daily basis. I feel like a bad parent for not being able to provide whatever my daughter needs, whatever she wants, especially when it comes to something as basic as food.
What would you like to see in this upcoming farm bill for SNAP and other programs that help people in need?
I would like it to be easier for people to apply [for SNAP]. If we had the revenue to give people the extra benefit during the pandemic, what is the difference now, especially if you are charging so much more for food?
There’s more that goes into needing food than what we make—I don’t think that [income] should be the first thing you look at. I moved in with my sister, so I don’t have a mortgage or a lease right now, but I’m still paying [for housing]. It’s hard to [reflect that expense] on the SNAP application.
So what do you wish that people—and lawmakers—who are in favor of cutting SNAP and other benefits programs understood about the people who use those programs?