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USDA increase foodshare benefits in the state, while the potential for a ‘food cliff’ nears

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 5:51 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2021 at 6:25 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A federally funded program that hasn’t considered inflation since the 1970s is finally getting a reboot, and that means more money for Wisconsin’s Foodshare Program.

One local organization that helps fight hunger in our area said this is a great first step, but they’re also warning about a ‘food cliff’ looming on the horizon.

For the first time in 45 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its foodshare benefits program. A lot has changed since then when it comes to food options, availability, and prices.

RELATED: USDA to permanently boost food stamp benefits by 25%

“It’s very modest so it’s going to work out to about 40 cents per meal, but it’s a great first step,” said Maureen Fitzgerald, VP of Government Relations for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. for feeding American eastern Wisconsin

It’s a step that’s been long-awaited said Fitzgerald, especially for the increase in families struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic.

“So right now, the maximum benefit that a family can get per person is $234 and so that’s going to go up about $8 per person starting October 1.

While a good first step, Fitzgerald offers a word of caution to the 740,000 Wisconsinites currently receiving foodshare benefits in the state. About 40 percent of recipients are minors under the age of 17.

“It’s a great thing that it’s happening, but I think what people are reading is the benefits are going way up. This is going to be sort of a huge windfall for people. And the reality is, is that right now. Everyone’s getting the maximum benefit because of what we’re calling Emergency allotments due to the pandemic,” said Fitzgerald.

For example, a senior on foodshare prior to the pandemic got about $16 a month because they are on a fixed income. When the pandemic hit, they were given the maximum amount which totaled around $220 per month. However, that won’t last forever.

“When the emergency allotments sunset at the end of this year, that senior is going to go back down to the minimum,” said Fitzgerald. “Now with the new thrifty meal plan instead of $16 a month, it’s going to be $20 a month…. really what happens is the timing of this, it’s just confusing. So, you hear, like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be this big increase’ and it really is going to work out to very small amount and for some people, when the pandemic relief goes away, they are going to see a really significant decrease in their benefits.”

Fitzgerald said this is where the term ‘food cliff’ comes in and they just want people to be prepared.

“What we’re trying to do is really get the word out so people understand because what happens frequently when benefits go down is that the way people hear about it is standing in line at the grocery store and your card doesn’t work,” said Fitzgerald. “Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is the largest food bank in the state. We are paying really close attention because we want to understand what’s happening with hunger relief so that we can plan and prepare and be here as a resource for people when they need help.”

Fitzgerald said Feeding America has seen a significant increase during the pandemic, helping families that have never needed help before the pandemic.

“We know the need isn’t going away. We know that people are going to rely on emergency food now and continuing into the new year, and we just want to be here to help people as the need continues.”

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