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Health

Extra SNAP benefits could expire in May in North Carolina

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Many people receiving Food and Nutrition Services benefits in North Carolina could see their monthly allotments decrease in May if the Biden administration does not extend the public health emergency declaration by April 15.

The benefits were increased under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allowed states like North Carolina to waive certain eligibility requirements and give households the maximum amount for their household size, even if their income might traditionally qualify them for fewer FNS dollars, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, states can only waive those requirements if both the federal government and the state have an emergency or disaster declaration in place.

If the Biden administration does not extend the federal public health emergency declaration by April 15, those extra FNS dollars could disappear beginning in May, according to a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

However, the spokesperson said the department believed an extension was likely, and though the extra FNS benefits were not meant to be permanent, the department would work to provide them for "as long as allowable."

If the benefits are allowed to expire, it could drive up demand at local food banks and food pantries.

Tina Postel, executive director of the Charlotte-based Loaves and Fishes food pantry network, said she believed demand could rise 5 to 7% if the benefits expired.

It would also come as many food banks have been strained by rising food and gas prices. Postel said many items like peanut butter and ground turkey have become significantly more expensive, and some older volunteers on fixed incomes have had to scale back the number of food deliveries they can make because of the high cost of gas.

Demand on food banks statewide remains elevated compared to before the pandemic, according to Mike Darrow, executive director of the Feeding the Carolina food bank network.

Darrow said demand remains especially high in rural, low-income areas near the mountains and the coast and that many school and workplace food drives that went away during the pandemic still haven't returned.

Still, Darrow said he expects food banks and pantries to make it through the next few months.

"Our food banks are a resilient group, and we're determined to feed as many of our friends and neighbors in North Carolina as we possibly can," he said.

More than 1.7 million North Carolinians were receiving SNAP benefits in December 2021, representing a 19% increase from the year before. Nationally, more than 41 million people received SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2022.

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Corrected: April 6, 2022 at 3:16 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that extra FNS benefits would expire on April 15 in North Carolina if the federal emergency declaration was not extended. The extra benefits would not expire until May. This story's headline has been updated to reflect this.

The earlier story also incorrectly stated the benefits were increased under the American Rescue Plan. They were increased under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.