SNAP Recipients in Limbo as Pandemic Food Benefits Bound to Expire



EBT Sign at 7-Eleven in Midtown. Photo by Nora Zaim-Sassi

After a long school day at Success Academy High School in Midtown East, Mariam Bamba was headed back to the Bronx but before she took a 40-minute commute home, she made a quick stop at 7-Eleven on East 33rd Street and Madison Avenue for a snack. 

“It’s nice that 7-Eleven accepts EBT,” said Bamba, referring to the electronic benefits transfer system, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Participants to pay for food using a debit card. “Since the pandemic, life has been hard on a lot of us. It hurt a lot of people financially,” she said.

During the pandemic, the federal government granted emergency allotments, a minimum additional $95 per month for households based on income-level as part of SNAP. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, emergency allotments were initially provided to households that did not receive the maximum amount of SNAP benefits and were later extended to all recipients. 

Emergency allotment benefits were expected to expire this month, creating concern for the nearly two million people citywide who rely on SNAP benefits to help purchase food. However, according to the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, the program has just been extended until January, giving families about three more months of enhanced benefits. 

“These pandemic-related food assistance programs have provided several billion dollars in additional aid to school children and struggling families throughout the state,” said Anthony Farmer, director of public information for the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance in an email. “This assistance has been vital for New Yorkers who were already straining to make ends meet, or those who were living paycheck to paycheck and those who experienced unemployment.”

While the extension means families now have more time to prepare and seek other assistance, some experts said the eventual expiration may re-expose some to risks food insecurity. 

“Over 20 percent of New Yorkers forgo medical aid and doctor appointments to save money for food,” said Julia McCarthy, a senior program officer at New York Health Foundation, a Midtown nonprofit that works to improve the health of New Yorkers. “I can only imagine how much harder it is for recipients of SNAP in Midtown because almost everything in the area is much more expensive than in other areas of New York.”

Approximately 717 retailers in Midtown accept EBT payments, according to data collected by nonprofit Hunger Solutions New York in 2019. Food retailers accepting this form of payment is crucial for individuals participating in SNAP, but SNAP benefits provided on EBT cards are expected to decrease by $2.55, from $8.00 per person per day to $5.45 per person per day when federal pandemic aid expires, according to Dawn Secor, a SNAP policy expert with the group. “Many people will be greatly impacted,” she said. 

Secor is particularly worried about children.

“Child food insecurity was projected to increase by 95 percent due to the pandemic, but this was not the case,” she said, adding, “once they go away, we will see child food insecurity go back up.” 

Even before the pandemic, more than 125,000 people in Midtown faced hunger, according to Hunger Solutions New York data and more than 39,000 of them were children.

“Food insecurity rates in New York are still highly unacceptable, but pandemic EBT and SNAP benefits, along with efforts from nonprofits, lessen the gravity of the pandemic on low-income families,” said McCarthy.

Another student at Success Academy, Jaylene Senteno, said she is worried about the end of the enhanced benefits. “It’s tough for me and my family,” she said. “The emergency allotments made a big difference for us during the pandemic.”

Senteno’s friend, who also benefited from pandemic SNAP aid, continues to use his parents EBT card every morning before class to buy breakfast, she said. “He wouldn’t be able to eat anything before class without it.”

With dreams of supporting her family financially someday, Senteno said she is interested in business. 

“Someday I want to become the CEO of my own business and finally be able to not worry about what I can buy or eat on the government’s money.”