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'The need is still there': Emergency pandemic food benefits to end in March

Fresh produce sits at the Harris Teeter in Carborro, NC.

Emergency food benefits for North Carolina families — supplied through the federal Food and Nutrition Services due to the COVID-19 pandemic — are set to end in March 2023.

The allotments will cease due to the signing of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act (2023) in December, which terminates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments in all states after February.

Eligible households in North Carolina will revert to their regular pre-pandemic monthly allotments in March.

Since March 2020, North Carolina families in the Food and Nutrition Services program have been receiving at least $95 in extra food benefits monthly. Average daily benefits per person in the state will decrease from $8.12 to $5.45.

Nationally, the average cut in monthly allotments after termination will be about $80 per person, according to Madhu Vulimiri, the deputy director of the Division of Child and Family Well-Being at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Households with elderly or disabled individuals will face a deeper cut — about $110 per person, she said.

Families have also been assisted by other federal programs, such as the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program for students who lost access to free and reduced meals during the pandemic, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children Nutrition for low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children below 5 years old.

But, according to Vulimiri, households in the state still face challenges putting nutritious food on the table.

“While the FNS emergency allotments are going to be ending, we know that the need is still there,” she said. 

For low-income families in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, ongoing effects of the pandemic and higher prices have made it difficult to afford food and pay bills, Carrboro Mayor Pro Tem Susan Romaine said.

“I think that there are a lot of families here in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community who are still really struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic,” Romaine said. “They’re struggling in terms of being able to still provide their most basic needs, whether that’s food or a roof over their head.”

She also said the emergency allotments aided families at a time when they were being laid off from work, enduring stress and experiencing medical crises by bringing a sense of comfort and security. 

Damon Seils, the mayor of Carrboro, said after the termination of allotments, a realistic option for support would be to connect people to nonprofit service organizations in the area that provide food assistance, like TABLE as well as PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

He also said school meal programs are crucial to providing food for children, especially since they have returned to school.

“It’s going to be a combination of resources, from both the public and nonprofit sectors,” Seils said. 

Romaine is also a co-founder of PORCH, a grassroots hunger relief organization based in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.

She said the organization’s largest program, Food for Families, is a fresh food program that provides a wide variety of fresh foods — such as milk, eggs, chicken and vegetables — monthly to participating families.

The program targets families in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district with children who have been identified by social workers as being “especially at risk of hunger.”

“We’re very fortunate to be here in Chapel Hill-Carrboro because I believe that, compared to a lot of communities in the state, we have an unusually strong safety net,” she said.

However, Romaine believes that if the economy goes into a recession and conditions for families significantly worsen, the focus will be on the federal government to take action.

“At the local level, we all step up, we all do what we can do,” she said. “But the truth of the matter is it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the relief that can be provided at the federal level.”

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Other hunger relief organizations in the area include the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service and Meals on Wheels of Orange County. Additionally, the Orange County Department of Social Services publishes a list of every nonprofit organization in the area on its website.

@DTHCityState |

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