Extra SNAP benefits coming to an end, but overlooked exemptions could help fill gap
New Hampshire Hunger Solutions is tracking food needs of New Hampshire families. (New Hampshire Hunger Solutions Screenshot)
This story was updated Feb. 22, 2023 at 11:30 a.m. to correct the income limit for SNAP benefits for an individual.
The number of Granite State adults and children without enough food dropped during the pandemic, in part because the federal government increased food stamp payments, according to a New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute analysis.
That extra aid for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ends this month for the state’s nearly 72,600 food stamp recipients, as they continue paying more for groceries, heat, and electricity. Advocates and state officials worry beneficiaries will not only lose money but also overlook exemptions that could lessen that loss.
New Hampshire provides SNAP benefits to people or households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person, that’s about $2,266 a month. For a household of four, it’s about $4,600 a month. If a household member is 60 or older or disabled, there is no income limit.
Karen Hebert, director of the Division of Economic Stability at the Department of Health and Human Services, said 65 percent of SNAP households will see an average monthly decrease of $108; the rest will lose an average of $154.
The department is telling recipients where to find food pantries and other assistance. It’s also urging more people to apply for SNAP benefits. In a 2021 report, the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute said that as many as 17,000 children may be eligible for benefits but were not enrolled in the program. New Hampshire Hunger Solutions has estimated the number for children and adults to be about 67,500.
If you or someone you know needs food or other assistance there are a number of organizations that can help.
- The state’s help hotline and website offer help with food and many other resources. (Dial 211 or visit 211nh.org.)
- The New Hampshire Food Bank (nhfoodbank.org) runs a mobile pantry and helps people apply for SNAP benefits. It can also be reached at 1-877-347-7627. It’s website has a map of food banks in the state.
- The Department of Health and Human Services can be reached at 1-844-275-3447. For a list of resources visit dhhs.nh.gov and search “changes to supplemental nutrition assistance program.”
- New Hampshire Children’s Trust (nhchildrenstrust.org/connect) has a directory of family resource centers across that state.
- The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension also has a map of food pantries and food discounts. (extension.unh.edu, search “food map”)
- The state’s Community Action Program sites can help find help with food and other assistance. (capnh.org)
Advocates like New Hampshire Legal Assistance also worry SNAP recipients don’t know to claim all their available exemptions – those that go beyond income and household size – to get the maximum amount of aid. Statistics back up those concerns.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in January that nationally just 2 percent of SNAP recipients claim the cost of child support payments, and only 6 percent seek exemptions for allowed medical expenses. The costs of caring for a child under 18 or a disabled adult of any age are also eligible exemptions, but just 3 percent of SNAP recipients claim those expenses, the center found.
“There’s nothing that SNAP recipients can do about the loss of the emergency allotments. That was Congress’ decision,” said Ray Burke, co-director of the benefits project at NHLA. “But what they can do is make sure that they’re staying in communication with our Department of Health and Human Services to inform them about their household costs and expenses to make sure that they’re receiving all of the regular benefits that they might be eligible for.”
Hebert said the department began alerting recipients this month, immediately after getting word from the federal government, that their extra benefits would end in February.
“It’s really been such a large focus and really a large concern from our perspective of how that is going to impact families statewide,” she said. Some states have provided state money to make up some of the lost benefits. Hebert said there was no time to put that in place and the department does not have the funding needed.
Prior to the enhanced payments, a single person could receive up to $376 a month. With the end of that benefit, the maximum payment returns to the pre-pandemic level of $281 a month. For a family of four, the maximum monthly benefit will drop from $1,034 to $939.
However, all unused SNAP benefits, including the additional assistance, will still be available.
The amount of the monthly payment may fall below the maximum amount, based on income, household size, and other eligible costs. The state always asks about household size, income, and housing expenses.
What worries Burke is that if the state does not ask, SNAP recipients and applications may not know to tell the state about other eligible exemptions, such as out-of-pocket child or adult care costs, utilities expenses, child support payments, and out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed $35 for people 60 and older. He said people should also tell the state if they receive fuel assistance.
Any of those costs could reduce income level and increase benefits.
Burke offered an example of a single mom of two children who earns $500 a week and pays $800 a month in rent. Her SNAP benefit would be $465 a month if she didn’t tell the state about the $200 she pays a month for after-school care and $525 if she did.
New Hampshire Hunger Solutions has partnered with NHLA to get that word out with flyers and other outreach.
“Deductions have always been around, but New Hampshire Hunger Solutions has done some research and looked at SNAP quality control data,” said Executive Director Laura Milliken. “And it shows that deductions are under utilized in New Hampshire.”
It has mapped under enrollment by town. In June 2021, the most recent time frame available, 1,728 people in Keene were enrolled in the SNAP program, it found. Based on U.S. Census income surveys, 5,304 were likely eligible, a 33 percent gap. The organization found a 24 percent gap in Bow, 32 percent gap in Auburn, and a 46 percent gap in Peterborough.
New Hampshire Hunger Solutions is also tracking food insecurity. In January, over 425,000 New Hampshire residents, including over 150,000 children, lived in households that reported having insufficient food.
That’s due in part to a lack of outreach by the state.
The state hasn’t had an outreach plan since 2017. It has submitted a new plan to the federal Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP benefits and provides states’ funding for outreach. In a copy shared by the federal Department of Agriculture, the department said it aims to increase SNAP enrollment by 200 people by the end of this fiscal year, in June.
Hebert said she could not discuss the specifics of the plan because the department has not contracted with an organization to do the outreach. The goals, she said, will be to identify the barriers that are keeping potentially eligible people from applying and better educate communities about the benefits of the program.
In a copy of the plan shared by the federal Department of Agriculture, the department said it aims to increase SNAP enrollment by 200 people by the end of this fiscal year, in June. The target audience will include working poor, single women with children, older adults, college students, veterans, and new Americans, according to the plan.
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