End to emergency SNAP benefits poses risk to Southeast Fairfax County residents


Credit: Virginia Department of Social Services

The imminent end to the pandemic-related temporary increase in federal nutritional assistance benefits to households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may put a serious crimp in families’ food budgets and cause a run on local food banks in mid-March, according to nonprofit leaders familiar with the situation. The change could reduce some families’ food budgets by between $95 and over $400 per month.

At a Feb. 9 meeting of the South County Task Force Steering Committee, guest speaker Patricia Araujo of Fairfax County Department of Family Services’ Public Assistance and Employment Services Division, told leaders of Richmond Highway charitable organizations that the final emergency allotment of funds will be provided to SNAP recipients Feb. 16. From that point on, households will receive only the basic benefits they received prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, enables eligible individuals and families to receive monthly nutritional assistance benefits via an Electronic Benefits Card to supplement the purchase of nutritious foods. SNAP emergency allotments were a temporary change to SNAP benefits that began in March 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services. The allotments raised SNAP households’ existing monthly benefit amount to the maximum allowable based on household size rather than income limits.

While all SNAP households recently received written notification from the Department of Social Services about the end to the emergency allotments, local nonprofits and county Department of Family Services workers are concerned that the relatively short notice won’t give families much time to prepare and that some may be caught off guard when they don’t receive an extra payment in March.

Southeast Fairfax County food pantries operated by nonprofits like United Community and Lorton Community Action Center may experience unusually strong demand the weekend of March 18-19, if families remain unaware of the change, said Araujo. She noted an earlier instance when benefits were delayed because of technical errors, causing food banks to be overrun.

Current economic conditions could worsen the impact of the SNAP change on local families, said Mary Paden, chair of the South County Task Force.

“Cutbacks in federal COVID-related relief, along with rising rents and inflation, could cause hardship in the Route 1 low-income community,” said Paden. “Nonprofits and food distributors have been telling us lately that the economic situation for low-income workers is worse now than before COVID, so cutbacks could cause even more hardship. We have also seen major cutbacks to rent relief programs and anticipate a large rise in evictions in the January data.”

United Community’s food pantry experienced a more than 300% increase in demand during the pandemic, according to Executive Director Alison DeCourcey. The organization is in the process of renovating its space at its Fordson Road location to provide expanded food storage and distribution services.

United Community received weekly donations of leftover produce from the Mount Vernon Farmers Market during the 2022 season, thanks to volunteers from Mount Vernon Kiwanis Club. (Credit: United Community)

SNAP COVID-19 emergency allotments were terminated in the 32 U.S. states and territories that still provided them, by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29, 2022.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers SNAP at the federal level, households that receive both SNAP and Social Security may see their base SNAP benefit decrease as of March 2023 due to higher Social Security benefits.

Fairfax County residents with questions about the change to SNAP benefits can contact the Virginia Department of Social Services’ temporary information line at 1-855-635-4370. Those who need food now can call Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning at 703-222-0880.

For information on local food pantries, please visit the Lorton Community Action Center website or the United Community website.

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