(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Starting in March, all Coloradans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, will see a reduction in their monthly benefit amount. SNAP recipients are saying the timing of this, couldn’t be worse.

The temporary additional benefit amounts that were added during the pandemic, have now ended. This change was enacted by Congress, after the Omnibus Bill was passed on Dec. 30.

Almost every other pandemic benefit has ended at this point, but recipients are shaking their fists in the air, saying ‘why now?’

After finding out she had an inflammatory disease, Casandra Babb had to drastically change her diet, leading her and her husband to recently apply for SNAP benefits.

“If I don’t get the food I need to eat, my legs will swell so big, that at some point I will be immobile,” said Babb.

After February 2023, the average family of four on SNAP benefits can expect to see a reduction of $360 per month. An average reduction of $90 per person, per month.

“I just don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford everything that I need to buy,” said Babb, whose income supports her and her disabled husband.

Their expected loss comes out to almost $200 a month. Babb says this is significant since she already pays well over the allotment she gets, due to her diet onset by her disease.

Cassandra and her husband, are not alone. In El Paso County alone, 74,054 individuals will also be affected. That number increases to 540,000 when counting individuals on SNAP in the state.

“After this reduction, we’re going to have to be more reliant on the food banks,” said Karla Sparks, a SNAP benefits recipient in Colorado Springs.

The food banks have already seen an uptick in foot traffic.

“We’ve seen a sustained increase in need, based on inflation since last summer…The timing of it [the reduction] is bad. Just because food prices are so expensive right now,” said Nate Springer, President & CEO of the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.

The cost of groceries is at all-time highs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports grocery prices 12% higher than they were a year ago, reflecting the largest 12-month increase in 43 years.

“I don’t think that now is the time for them to drop that support…This kind of thing can push somebody from being able to stay in their home…Because it’s either pay the rent or buy groceries,” said Sparks.

The people that are most susceptible to be greatly affected by this reduction, are the working-class families that are already working paycheck to paycheck. This is what Springer said he saw last summer when inflation was at one of its worst points.

“We saw a whole new group of working-class families cross that threshold into ‘need’ because of the inflation. So, I expect that we will see the same thing this time,” said Springer.

Following a rough patch during the pandemic, people say they felt like they were finally starting to get back on their feet.

“We are just starting to be able to go forward with our lives and be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And then? Another slap in the face from society,” said Cassandra Babb’s husband, Christopher Johnson, who is a veteran that is unable to work because of his disability.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Food and Energy Assitance Division, every SNAP participant in Colorado will receive a notice during the week of Jan. 23, informing them of this change, and will also get another notice in the mail in February when they receive their maximum allotment issuance.

They are urging SNAP recipients to keep a close eye on their mail. CDHS will also be utilizing social media, as well as mainstream media, text alerts, and flyers, to ensure that there isn’t any confusion when the reduction does take place in March.

Resources for Colorado SNAP recipients

The state of Colorado cannot control or reverse this decision since it was a federal act. However, they are providing as many resources as they can to help residents plan for the end of these temporary federal benefits, in terms of how and where to get food, as well as budgeting and planning tools on their website: www.cdhs.colorado.gov/snap-ea-ending

Food resources

A list of food resources was also provided by Karla Maraccini, the Food and Energy Assistance Director at the Colorado Department of Human Services:

  • Local food banks: Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, The Salvation Army, Crossfire Ministries, Springs Rescue Mission, etc.
    • Care and Share has distribution centers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and one opening soon in Alamosa
  • Everyday Eats: A food support program specifically for individuals 60+ and ineligible to receive a supplemental food box from participating food banks
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program: Administered throughout the state of Colorado by numerous food banks/pantries
  • Double Up Food Bucks stores: Doubles the value of SNAP benefits spent at participating grocers and markets
    • If you shop with your EBT and Quest card at participating farmers markets or grocers, and purchase SNAP-eligible foods with your SNAP dollars, for every $1 you spend on any SNAP-eligible item, you will earn $1 off Colorado-grown fruits or vegetables. (Ex. If you buy $5 on eggs, milk bread, you will get $5 off any Colorado-grown produce)

Budgeting and planning resources

Colorado PEAK is the system where people can apply and monitor their benefits, as well as see their notifications.

“If they are not sure how much they need to start planning, or what that maximum allotment will look like, there should be a notice in PEAK that tells them what that amount is,” said Maracinni, who shared a few tips on budgeting and planning:

  • SNAP benefits can be rolled over into the next month. The entire amount does not have to be spent every month.
    • “If it is possible for families to start saving that money now, they can keep it on their cards,” said Maracinni.
  • Purchasing non-perishable foods
  • SNAP-Ed: education classes, that provide tips and tools on how to stretch your food budget, as well as how to shop and cook for healthy meals, and stay physically active.

But, Maracinni admits that this will have a huge impact on many families, “For some households, all the planning in the world is still going to result in a very challenging few months ahead.”

A challenging few months ahead is the only thing Cassandra Babbs can expect.

“I don’t know what they [the government] expect. I mean, I know what they expect from people. They expect them to work 80 hours a week and kill themselves just to survive,” she said, frustrated, tears welling in her eyes.

How you can help (donation/volunteer opportunities)

“When Southern Coloradans know that their neighbors are in need, Southern Coloradans answer the call, every single time,” Nate Springer, President & CEO of the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, said proudly.

According to Springer, they have been anticipating and preparing for the uptick, but they can use all the help they can get. Springer lists three main ways to help:

  1. Donate
    • $1 = five meals at Care and Share
    • This is the most recommended option (even more than donating food itself) because of their bulk buying power. Springer says they purchase food by the semi-truck load.
  2. Volunteer
    • Care and Share has distribution centers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and one opening soon in Alamosa
  3. Hosting food drives, donating food directly

Donating to other local food banks (The Salvation Army, Crossfire Ministries, Springs Rescue Mission, etc.) is also an option.

“We do expect an increase of people, and it’s because of the timing… but we are ready to take care of that need,” Springer said.