Emergency food benefits from COVID-19 set to expire in March

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Emergency benefits that helped thousands of low-income Minnesotans buy groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire next month.

Nearly three years ago, Congress approved emergency payments for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Now, nearly 30 million Americans will lose that emergency funding after next month.

RELATED: US ending extra help for groceries that started during COVID

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) says the benefits helped more than 350,000 Minnesota households by providing an extra $95 in benefits or additional benefits up to the maximum for their household size.

“That extra support during the pandemic was a welcome relief for people who count on SNAP,” DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said. “We know that many Minnesotans still struggle to put food on the table. Without the additional federal benefits, that will become even more difficult.”

While the pandemic has waned, food insecurity remains an issue for many Minnesotans. Last year, Minnesotans visited food shelves more than 5.28 million times, a record-high number.

That prompted state lawmakers to introduce a bill to provide $5 million in emergency funding to Minnesota food shelves. The House passed that bill earlier this month and the Senate gave it final approval Monday night, meaning it now heads to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for his signature.

One of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who will be losing the boost in benefits is Robbin Martin, of West St. Paul — Tuesday, Martin went to The Open Door’s food pantry in Eagan, grateful to be able to fill a cart full of food.

When asked what she plans to do when the added benefits fizzle-out, Martin said she’s not sure.

“I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know yet — I haven’t even figured that part out yet,” Martin told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

While uncertain, Martin says she feels okay knowing she has family and friends to lean on if needed, but knows many aren’t as fortunate.

“It’s a really frightening thought to imagine that you can’t sufficiently feed your family,” Martin said.

It’s not just people this is set to impact — the organizations that help feed community members are preparing for an increase in demand.

“As these benefits expire, it’s going to have a remarkable impact on families in our community and it’s also going to have a remarkable impact on the hunger relief system,” Jason Viana, executive director of The Open Door food pantry, said.

While the federal emergency benefits will expire after next month, DHS says many other resources are available for Minnesotans in need of a little extra help, including:

DHS also has more information regarding the expiration of the emergency SNAP benefits and how to find other resources on its website.