STAMPING OUT HUNGER: The Foodbank is raising funds to help meet the county’s food needs as COVID-era supplemental SNAP benefits end this week. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Beginning this week, 30,000 Santa Barbara County families will find themselves forced to make do with $178 less per month per household in federal food stamp benefits designed to get them through the COVID emergency. 

With the absences of the emergency allotments, recipients will still be receiving food stamps — better known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP — but at the pre-pandemic level. With food prices 11 percent higher this January than they were the previous year, that spells serious trouble, according to Laurel Alcantar of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. 

Alcantar said the Foodbank was forced to ratchet up food distribution by 20 percent during the pandemic and expressed concern that the loss of emergency benefits will trigger a “hunger gap,” also known popularly known as “the hunger cliff.” She said this winter’s exceptionally heavy rains caused economic hardship for families whose breadwinners are employed in the agriculture, hospitality, and construction industries. 

“We are asking the public to help us raise $500,000 to assist us in meeting the increased local need for food,” Alcantar said. 

As with many federal relief programs, SNAP funds are funneled first through the state’s CalFresh program and then distributed via the county’s Social Service Department. Social Service workers are bracing for a tsunami of phone calls from SNAP recipients wondering where their money went and requesting hearings as to why their benefits were reduced. The department issued a report detailing the series of emergency assistance increases that took place during the pandemic. With those now evaporated, the report concluded, the county will experience a $5.3 million loss in federal food assistance. When the economic multiplier effects are factored in, the report concluded, that’s a loss of $8.16 million in economic activity: “Local businesses throughout the county will experience a decrease in the sale of foods products and local food banks will have a greater demand for food assistance.” 

Of the SNAP benefits distributed throughout the county, the report stated, 40 percent went to North County families, 45 percent went to families on the South Coast, and the remaining 15 percent went to families around Lompoc and mid-county. With the loss of the emergency assistance, the county report noted that the average recipients will still receive $313. That 36 percent reduction — coupled with inflation — will bring benefits back to the pre-pandemic level of $226 a month.


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