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Millions who get SNAP food assistance are about to see a reduction in their benefits

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Most federal pandemic assistance is coming to an end. That means millions who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will be losing benefits. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: As the pandemic SNAP benefits are phased out, people will receive about $90 less each month on average. Some households will see a cut of up to $250 a month. Carlis Ferris (ph) is in her mid-60s. She's retired and lives in Columbus, Ohio. She says what started as pandemic relief went on to be inflation relief as groceries became much more expensive.

CARLIS FERRIS: For me, personally, when they reduce these food stamps next month, it's going to be a lot harder.

AUBREY: Social Security is her main source of income. And though there's been a cost-of-living adjustment, Ferris says it has not kept up with an increase in rent and utilities. The extra SNAP benefits have helped her eat well and preserve her Social Security for other expenses. But now she'll have to cut back. One strategy is to stock up on cheaper foods like crackers, bread and rice, which she doesn't want to do because she knows it's not a healthy way to eat.

FERRIS: The cheapest stuff is the less healthier stuff. I learned that because I gained a whole lot of weight eating on the more cheaper stuff, like the starches and the crackers. And now that I've gotten myself into a better weight size, I'm going to have to figure that out.

AUBREY: More than 40 million people in the U.S. are helped out each month by SNAP. Some states have already ended pandemic benefits. And next month, remaining states and territories will do the same. Dorothy Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

DOROTHY ROSENBAUM: This is a change that will increase hardship for many individuals and families, especially given the modest amount of regular SNAP benefits, which are only about $6 per person per day on average.

AUBREY: She says what may help cushion the blow is the cost of living increases built into SNAP and other adjustments to help the program keep up with inflation and help people afford healthy food. Even so, at the start of the pandemic, nearly 9.5 million older adults aged 50 and up were considered food insecure, meaning they sometimes struggle to afford all the food they need. This year, as lawmakers in Congress begin to reauthorize the Farm Bill, which includes review of the SNAP program, Rosenbaum says they have an opportunity to improve it.

ROSENBAUM: I think it's important for lawmakers to prioritize protecting and strengthening SNAP rather than proposing further reductions.

AUBREY: At a time when, according to the CDC, many children don't eat fruits and vegetables every day but do consume plenty of sugary drinks, the Alliance to End Hunger is focused on ways to expand programs that promote healthy options. Here's executive director Eric Mitchell.

ERIC MITCHELL: Being able to use SNAP benefits at your local farmers' markets, as well as, you know, creating what we call food pharmacies, so that way you can use your SNAP benefits to be able to purchase healthy foods to help improve your health care outcomes.

AUBREY: He says there are far too many people struggling with food insecurity. For instance, at the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, the head of communication for the food bank says they've seen an alarming increase in need. Carlis Ferris says she'll rely on the food bank for some basics come next month.

FERRIS: I think there's going to be a whole lot of people in need. And a lot of people are going to have to go to the food banks. You have no other choice.

AUBREY: With pandemic benefits ending, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective is bracing for more demand.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRAMEWORKS' "DELPHINA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.