Melanie Hickcox and Monica Palmer both work at Feeding Missouri, a coalition of Missouri food banks. Melanie is the SNAP project manager, and Monica is the communications manager.
During the partial government shutdown in January, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamp benefits, distributed February benefits at the end of the month in January.
Melanie and Monica spoke about how this disruption of normal benefits is still impacting food insecure Missourians and local food pantries.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Melanie Hickcox: That became a huge concern for us. I mean, it's good that they're getting the benefits, but at the same time, so many people will not know where those benefits are coming from necessarily.
They might think that it's just a bonus that they got in the month of January. So, they don't necessarily know what's going on, and so, they're getting this money and not realizing, "Oh. I'm gonna have to go a whole 'nother month" - and that's assuming that they're gonna get March benefits and that's not even a guarantee at this point.
It's something that we really... we're reaching out to our food banks and trying to let them know what's gonna happen, as far as, you know, the people coming in to our pantries and our agencies, and the possibility of it being at a crisis.
We’re very concerned about what can possibly happen. We obviously don't know for sure how it's gonna go, but based on what we've heard, it looks as though it's probably gonna be a difficult time for pantries in the next, at least, month and hopefully not longer, but the damage is already done. So...
Monica Palmer: I think people will struggle even if they did hear the information like, "Hey, these are your February benefits that you're getting in January."
When you operate in crisis mode, and you're constantly just trying to make ends meet, and you're in that mental state, you know, if you get a bonus, you're gonna spend it.
You're like, "Kids! We can actually have meat in our meal tonight. We can make a dinner that has, you know, meat and vegetables," and you're going to have that kind of splurge mentality when you get this influx of money.
And I think that a lot of people probably felt that, and, you know, you see people running out of food stamp benefits. That's something that's a common thing. When you talk to clients, and you hear their stories and they'll say to you like, "Well, when I run out of food stamps, I go to the pantry." So, what's gonna happen in February?
Even though things are back to normal for, you now, the majority of the country. For those families who rely on food stamp benefits to make ends meet and to pay for, you know, food, they're going to be hurting in February. It's gonna be very difficult month.
It's gonna be a colder mouth, and so they're going to have higher utility bills. People are getting sick right now, so you have to make the choice whether to take your sick kid to the doctor or, you know, keep the heat on or buy food.
So, these are the kinds of choices, especially in the winter time, that hit these low-income families so much harder than the rest of us, and I think in February, it's gonna be very very difficult month for a lot of low-income families.