man loading truck
Lance Alford, a truck driver for the Capuchins, loads a truck to deliver to various soup kitchens on March 10. For some high grocery prices are a struggle. Add in the end of pandemic-era SNAP benefits and some people find themselves in a bind to pay for groceries and other bills. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press)

More than 1.3 million Michiganders will see a drop in food assistance benefits this month, and metro Detroit food pantries are preparing to help more families as they adjust to the change.

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

Over 700,000 of families in Michigan were receiving at least $95 more each month through a pandemic-era expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but that ended following a shift in federal law. The additional food assistance provided much-needed relief as grocery costs surged and made room in budgets for families to pay for other essentials, like utilities and housing.

Households will see regular benefits resume this month, after as many as three years with the extra boost for some recipients. Thirteen percent of the state’s population uses SNAP, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“When a household falls on tough times, food is often the first thing that gets cut from the budget because it’s one of the quickest ways that a family can respond to hardship and so the SNAP emergency allotments have been a lifeline,” said Julie Cassidy, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Now, families, she said, are facing a “cliff” as pandemic safety nets — including extra food aid, rental assistance and continuous Medicaid coverage — unwind. A family of four receiving SNAP, with a monthly net income after expenses of $1,700, could see their aid drop to $429 from $939. The decrease will vary by household and regular benefits are issued throughout the month. 

Organizers at Fish and Loaves in Taylor were preparing earlier this month by stocking up on extra food in their warehouse so shelves don’t go empty. The grocery store-style pantry, where people can browse and pick items of their choice for free, has seen an uptick in clients, and expects those numbers to climb.

list of food
Willie King 67, shows a list of items he is rationed to as he shops at the Capuchin Services Center pantry on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023 with his wife Sharon. Having additional food assistance, provided during the pandemic, helped the King family buy healthier foods. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press)

Between January and May of last year, the food pantry saw, on average, 275 new clients a month. From September 2022 through January of this year, that increased to 448 clients a month, due to rising food costs and the holidays adding more stress on households, said Stephanie McNees, executive director of Fish and Loaves.

“March is going to be a tough month,” she said.

‘It’s just been a blessing’

Sisters Denise Janiszewski and Judy Wollen, of Taylor, were among the visitors one Friday morning at Fish and Loaves, weaving through aisles where there are no price tags, but rather caps on certain items and weight limits on others. They loaded up their van, with each sisters’ groceries — fruits, vegetables and cereal — on either side.

Janiszewski, who is on a fixed income, said she received about $100 more a month in extra SNAP benefits bringing her total up to about $220.

“I was able to stock up my pantry on canned goods and stuff and it’s just been a blessing,” Janiszewski, 67, said.

She was able to keep her freezer full, allowing her to “get ahead of the game.” It made her feel more independent and not have to ask for help. The end of the extra aid means she’ll have to cut corners again. Much of her money goes towards maintaining her van and the food pantry is a safety net to fall back on.

Still, Janiszewski doesn’t worry about herself. Instead, she’s concerned about families with children.

For Denise Nelson, the additional SNAP dollars helped her as food and gas costs skyrocketed. She was planning to buy less meat since it’s more expensive. Nelson, 51 of Brownstown, said Fish and Loaves is a lifeline for her and others in the community.

“Everything has gone up,” she said.

Food pantries and families prepare

Michigan stands to lose millions in additional SNAP benefits each month. In January, 705,350 Michigan households received more than $131 million in additional benefits. Those dollars not only helped households but the local economy as well, said Anna Almanza, director of policy and SNAP outreach at the Food Bank Council of Michigan.

“Local grocers and vendors that are accepting those SNAP benefits are going to see the purchasing power going down for people,” she said.

The extra benefits gave families a choice, allowing them to buy healthier foods and not feel like they had to stretch their dollars, Almanza said. Food banks were already reporting an increase in need last year leading up to the holidays — even with additional SNAP dollars — and it’s likely they will see a significant uptick over the next months, she said. About 1.1 million Michiganders are food insecure and a third of households receiving SNAP have children, according to Feeding America.

The United Community Family Services runs a food pantry and serves a largely immigrant and refugee community. In January, the Troy-based nonprofit served 491 families — up from 293 the same time last year, said case manager Raghad Gabbara.

Over in Detroit, the Capuchin Services Center the number of families coming in a day has tripled since May, from 50 families to 150, with the numbers only increasing.

“We’ve just seen a lot of new faces and new people coming through,” said Br. Rob Roemer, operations director at Capuchin Services Center, a branch of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

Families can drop by the food pantry every 30 to 60 days, based on if a household has children. Some, he said, are calling and asking if they can come before they are eligible, because they are out of money and food. With the change in SNAP benefits, Roemer said his organization will have to order more food and count on volunteers to keep shelves stocked.

Over the past three to four months, the $95 in extra SNAP helped Sharon King, who is diabetic, purchase healthier foods. At the Capuchin Services Center, the 62-year-old Detroiter came with her husband to pick up chicken, string beans and sweet peas.

King, who is on a fixed income, expects to return to the pantry in about two months and anticipates having to stretch her reduced SNAP benefits.

“I’m going to be lost without it because it helped me a lot,” King said.

man with shopping cart
Willie King 67, prepares to have his grocery cart weighed as he shops at the Capuchin Services Center pantry on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023. This month, King and his wife Sharon are among more than 700,000 households that will lose extra food benefits provided during the pandemic. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press)

How to get help

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *