Cecelia Proffit, her husband, Conor Hilton, and their children are among the families who will see their SNAP benefits reduced starting April 1, leaving them worried about putting food on their table. Photo submitted by Cecelia Proffit

Cecelia Proffit and her family are among those bracing for the decline in SNAP benefits that will take effect April 1 after Gov. Kim Reynolds ended the public health disaster emergency proclamation that had increased SNAP benefits for recipients to the maximum level.

Starting in April, SNAP benefits will be reduced by 42%, a drop of more than $29 million a month, which anti-hunger advocates warn will drive need higher and increase the number of visits to food pantries to levels not seen since the early days of the pandemic.

For Proffit, whose Iowa City family is among the more than 290,500 Iowans receiving SNAP benefits, the decrease will mean a loss of about $254 a month. It will also mean she and her family, including a 3-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son, will likely have to visit a local food pantry to make ends meet. Her husband, Conor Hilton, is a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where he is paid $20,000 a year to teach classes while he finishes his Ph.D. program in English. His take-home pay is about $1,700 a month.

Proffit, 30, said she has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom because of the cost of child care, which she estimated would be about $2,000 a month for her two children, making it financially untenable for her to work and pay for child care.

Her husband is also immunocompromised and works from home, so sending their children to day care could also raise the risk of them bringing home illnesses that could get him sick and make him unable to work and go to school.

The family, who moved to Iowa from Utah in 2019 so Hilton could go to school, has one car and pays more than $1,400 a month for rent. They are on Medicaid and receive benefits through the Women, Infants and Children program. They also received the child care tax credit of $300 a month for their daughter, and received the credit on their tax refund for their son, who was born during the pandemic. They also receive assistance to help pay their heating bill, she said.

With the loss of the child care tax credit, WIC benefits declining and the reduction of SNAP benefits, Proffit said she’s worried about how her family will get by.

“You pinch pennies wherever you can, but there’s only so far that goes and when there’s no money coming in, you run out eventually,” she said.

Proffit described how she has to ration food and milk to keep from running out before the next SNAP benefits arrive.

“Our toddler asks for more milk and we’d say no, you have to wait until next month when the benefits are renewed because we don’t have enough to make it to the end of the month,” she said. “It’s tough as a parent. It’s sad when they’re crying and she doesn’t understand why she can’t have more milk.”

The loss of the extra SNAP payment also comes as inflation is rising, driving food costs higher, making it even more difficult to stretch what SNAP benefits her family will continue to receive, Proffit said.

“I know inflation hurts everyone, but most people have a little cushion they can dig into when prices go up. But if you’re on SNAP, you don’t have that cushion,” she said.

Proffit said the enhanced SNAP benefits kept her from having to rely on a food pantry to feed her family, but with the reduction of benefits, she will likely visit the food pantry in her neighborhood. Her family will receive about $580 a month in SNAP starting in April, Proffitt said.

Her family is an example of what those fighting food insecurity say will happen as more people visit food pantries to make up for the loss of SNAP benefits.

When SNAP benefits were expanded, the number of visitors to food pantries across the state declined, but people on the front lines in the fight against hunger say those numbers are expected to jump significantly after the decrease in benefits takes effect.

That combined with increasing inflation and loss of child care tax credits will have a long-term effect on food insecurity, said Michelle Book, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa, which serves 55 counties in central and southeast Iowa.

“Fewer people are being helped,” Book said. “It was helping them to make ends meet. I think as we go into this summer it’s going to be a catastrophe. Kids will be out of school. They’re not getting their child tax credit checks. I think we’re moving into a period where this could perpetuate for a while. This isn’t a quick inflation come and gone, which we thought it would be. We thought COVID was just going to take eight weeks. This is here to stay. This is going to be a much bigger problem for Iowa than COVID when it comes to food insecurity.”

 

Matt Unger, CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, which operates a network of 14 food pantries, mobile pantries and food warehouses, gave a similarly dire forecast.

He said that DMARC saw the greatest number of individuals visiting a pantry in 2020, but that the overall number of visits was going down.

DMARC served nearly 40,000 people last year, and 59,000 people in 2020.

“We credited that to the increases in SNAP that we were seeing and some of the other government programs,” Unger said.

People who received increases in SNAP benefits were less likely to visit a pantry, but those numbers are already beginning to rise, as much as 7% in March, as people try to prepare for the loss of benefits, he said.

“We’ve been trying to prepare people for what April is going to bring, because it’s going to be huge,” Unger said.

He said DMARC has food on back order and has worked to keep pantry shelves full in preparation for the expected increase in pantry traffic.

Unger said DMARC expects to see as many as 20,000 more people returning to its pantries after SNAP benefits are reduced.

The reductions in SNAP benefits is expected to “have a big effect on our pantry traffic.”

Proffit has tried to buy extra canned goods and a few extra boxes of cereal to keep her pantry stocked as long as possible after her family’s SNAP benefits are reduced, but she’s nervous about what will happen once her small stockpile runs out.

“I think about it a lot,” she said. “Right now the fridge is full, but in a month or two … I don’t know. It’s stressful to think about. I’m nervous about it.”


Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa. Read additional stories on Iowastopshunger.com.