OKLAHOMA CITY — Raymond Delfuente had never been to a food pantry before.
But with significant cuts coming to his Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits this month, Delfuente said he had to do something.
While waiting for about an hour to collect groceries at an Oklahoma City food pantry on Tuesday, he cursed rising food prices and worried about feeding his family of four, their two dogs and one cat.
His family has received $200 to $260 a month in SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, for the past few months that they’ve qualified for the program. When pandemic-era emergency allotments go away this month, benefits for Delfuente and others will be reduced.
“Everybody’s going to be in trouble,” he said.
All Oklahoma SNAP recipients will see a decrease in their benefits this month after the end of federal emergency allotments that were tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oklahoma will receive about $50 million less in SNAP funding to distribute each month, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
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Roughly 1 in 5 Oklahomans — more than 800,000 people — qualify for SNAP benefits that help low-income families afford groceries. The monthly benefit amount varies based on factors such as household size and income.
For nearly three years, SNAP recipients received their typical benefits early in the month and emergency allotments near the end of the month. But the end of the extra benefits could stretch some families to their limits and increase demand on food pantries.
Some low-income Oklahomans could have additional government benefits cut as the state in April resumes disenrolling Medicaid recipients who no longer qualify. During the pandemic, states were required to keep all Medicaid recipients insured, but about 300,000 Oklahomans could lose their health benefits this year because they’re no longer eligible.
The Urban Mission in Oklahoma City saw a jump in clients during the pandemic, an increase in demand that shows no signs of slowing down, said Executive Director German Garcia. He expects the food pantry to see more visitors as a result of the SNAP changes.
“I don’t know what the jump is going to be, but I do know that it’s going to affect families adversely,” Garcia said. Usually, 30 to 40 of the roughly 250 customers at the drive-through pantry each day are first-time visitors, he said.
The Urban Mission relies on distributions from the Regional Food Bank and donations from six grocery stores. The food pantry used to receive donations from just three retail stores, but the amount of contributions from each store has decreased, which Garcia chalked up partly to high inflation that is driving up food costs.
Mary Holland of Oklahoma City expects her adopted son’s SNAP benefits to decrease dramatically with the end of the emergency allotments.
Her 25-year-old son, who is disabled and qualifies for Supplemental Security Income, received about $200 in SNAP benefits each month during the pandemic, she said. Holland expects that those benefits will now drop to about $65 monthly.
When Holland’s son first received an emergency allotment, she assumed it was a mistake and that she would have to pay the government back. After coming to rely on the additional payments, the decrease in SNAP benefits will be devastating, she said.
“They keep saying this is the richest country in the world. Then we shouldn’t be in these food bank lines like this,” Holland said outside the Urban Mission.
Joy Ferrin, vice president of community engagement at the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma in Tulsa, said it’s difficult to know how much the demand for food assistance might grow due to the end of the emergency allotments.
The food bank has a SNAP outreach team that helps people sign up for benefits and has been answering questions about the end of the emergency benefits.
Mainly, the food bank is focused on getting Oklahomans help through one of the 400 food pantries with which it partners across 24 counties, Ferrin said.
“It’s been a handful of years now that (SNAP recipients) have been able to receive those emergency allotments,” she said. “Anytime you get used to budgeting a certain way and then have to adjust, it can be difficult.”
The extra support the state and federal government provided during the pandemic helped people at a time when they really needed it, said Emma Morris, health care and revenue policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
She encouraged policymakers to think about how the government can improve access to programs like SNAP and Medicaid all the time, not just during a health crisis.
“We’re going back to normal Medicaid rules, and the increased SNAP benefit is decreasing,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really important that we reflect on what we learned during this time.”
To find information about the food bank serving eastern Oklahoma, go to okfoodbank.org.