DENVER — Since emergency additional SNAP allotments ended back in March with the end of the COVID-19 national public health emergency, family finances have been strained for many.
"We are seeing historically high food prices, historically high cost of living. With the end of the Public Health Emergency folks lost a lot of SNAP benefits, so we're seeing people being really hard hit," said Carmen Mooradian, policy and advocacy coordinator at Hunger Free Colorado.
She said they typically see families forced to remove fresh produce off their grocery list when trying to save money as fresh, nutritious foods can be expensive.
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) picked Colorado, Louisiana and Washington for a new pilot program to make it easier for SNAP recipients to get healthy foods.
"We applied because we saw the devastating impact of the end of maximum allotments on our SNAP participants," said Karla Maraccini, the director of Food & Energy Assistance Division at the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Colorado will receive $7.9 million in a federal grant to test out the program that will reimburse SNAP households for healthy choices.
SNAP participants who buy qualifying fresh fruits and vegetables using their SNAP benefits will receive a 100% reimbursement of the dollars spent back on their EBT card, up to $20 per transaction with a maximum reimbursement of $60 a month.
The reimbursement funds can then be spent on any SNAP item, at any store.
"We are providing more money back into grocery stores and farmers markets. We're also providing an opportunity for farmers, ranchers, producers to be able to get or potentially reach even more customers or they'll have additional money to spend on on their their items," said Maraccini.
This is a different resource than Colorado's 'Double Up Food Bucks' program. That program gives SNAP recipients a dollar off Colorado grown produce for every dollar spent on an eligible SNAP item, up to $20 a day.
The new program, yet to be named, is expected to launch in April 2024. State officials call it a win-win for families stretching their budget and for local farmers who might have seen a dip in sales as people cut their grocery costs.
The program will launch in 26 stores and farmers markets across the state that are yet to be determined. The USDA said the focus will be on a variety of small and independent stores, farmers markets and retail chains with locally-grown food.
“We applaud the selected states for stepping up and partnering with us to test and ultimately improve SNAP incentive programs. Together we will learn more about what works and pave the way for similar programs across the country," said Stacy Dean, USDA deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
Once the program launches next spring, SNAP beneficiaries do not need to sign up, they will receive the reimbursements automatically when they shop to qualifying produce at the specific participating locations.
For any questions about your SNAP allotment or the timing and status of your case, a new hotline has been launched where you can get real time updates. Call 800-816-4451. State officials also launched a new website to help residents plan for the end of the additional benefits.
If you are in need of food assistance, there are additional resources:
- The USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program connects low-income families with U.S. grown food.
- You can click here for a list of all food banks and pantries in our state.
The state also offers the following for those that may be impacted by this change:
- Roll over unused SNAP benefits to the next month. Unused benefits can remain on EBT cards for up to nine months. This may help cushion the impact of the reduction in benefits.
- Stock up on non-perishable items now, while you have the additional benefits. (View tips on stocking your pantry in English or Spanish.)
- Stretch food ingredients and plan to use them in more than one meal. This helps to save money and reduce food waste. (View tips on stretching ingredients in English or Spanish.)
- Consider freezing produce to make fruit and vegetables last longer. (View tips on freezing food in English or Spanish.)
- Look at unit prices to compare similar products at the grocery store. (View tips on comparing prices in English or Spanish.)