Customers shopping for produce at the farmers market under Bridge in Baltimore, MD

Customers shop for produce at the farmers market under Bridge in Baltimore, Md.

(The Center Square) – The end of expanded benefits like federal unemployment payments and increased SNAP funding has begun to affect hundreds of thousands of Maryland residents, an official with Maryland Hunger Solutions said.

Along with the loss of federal funds being given to unemployed residents, the loss of the increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has many residents living in fear.

“I think for people experiencing poverty, the choices are always between all of the difficult choices they have to make,” Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions told The Center Square.

The choice comes between food, rent, health care or transportation. All the choices are challenging, he said, and they include medicine, food, utility bills and transportation. The state is about to hit the benefits cliff in October that advocates – like the organization he leads – have worried about, he said.

“The calls that we are getting from local folks are indicative, I think, of the fear that is out there,” Wilson said.

He doesn’t understand why the state doesn’t try to get approval from the USDA to continue the expanded SNAP benefits, something he said other states have done successfully. The failure to act will mean a loss for some people of $100 a month, others of hundreds of dollars a month.

“For the state of Maryland, this is going to mean the loss of millions of dollars. And by millions, I mean, federal dollars They're going to leave millions of federal dollars on the table for other states who are continuing their benefits,” Wilson said.

The SNAP program has been a critical lifeline – even before the pandemic – for plenty of people in Maryland, he said. Putting it in context, in February 2020, before the pandemic began, 597,000 Maryland residents were SNAP participants in a state with a population of 6 million.

“At its height during the pandemic, which was the highest number recorded in history in the state, it was at 855,000. So literally, more than about another 260,000 people,” Wilson said.

The Families First legislation that enabled emergency allotments brought every SNAP participant up to the maximum level. Benefits are determined based on household income, household size and household expenses.

The SNAP benefits still couldn’t be used for medicine, menstrual products or toilet paper. But a recipient could at least have access to food, he said.

A single-person household received $194 with the emergency allotment, which Wilson said he suspects anyone would spend more than that in a month. But it was better than what they were getting before.

Others who benefited included retail grocers, producers and everybody who makes and sells food because the emergency allotment helped them to have access to more customers.

“The other beneficiary was the Maryland economy because when you give people SNAP benefits, they don't go put them in the bank, and they don't go buy luxury items. They buy food, and we buy it at our grocery stores and at our farmers markets and on corner stores,” Wilson said.

Those dollars rebound in the local economy, he said.

Paths exist for the state to get those SNAP emergency allotments extended, Wilson said. The USDA has been open to states having declarations regarding the pandemic health situation. Maryland has strict mask guidelines because it has elevated COVID-19 contacts throughout the state, even more than six months ago.

“For there to be a pretense that we are beyond the pandemic, when in fact, we're still in the midst of the pandemic, I think is critical for our understanding of why we need to maintain benefits,” he said.