Many of the more than 40 million people who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are seeing less money this month than they did at the start of the year.
In February, a pandemic-era emergency order that gave families the maximum amount of benefits each month expired.
Alan Gossett and his husband John Howe are two of the people seeing less in their monthly SNAP checks.
Howe has primary lateral sclerosis, a rare disease similar to ALS.
"I am going to be very disabled for the rest of my life," Howe said from his hospital bed inside the home the couple rents outside Seattle.
Gossett is not only Howe's husband, he works as his caregiver full-time — a job that doesn't pay, but one he does 70 to 80 hours every week.
The couple relies on roughly $26,000 a year in Social Security benefits as income.
They also qualify for SNAP benefits. Low-income families who qualify get SNAP benefits based on household size, and then it's a sliding scale based on income and other expenses.
The pandemic-era emergency order gave the maximum amount to all who qualified without factoring in that sliding scale.
Howe and Gossett received $516 a month.
"Before, we were pretty much breaking even," Gossett says.
Congress let the emergency order expire, and while Gossett and Howe are still low-income and still qualify for SNAP, their income is now factored in, and their benefit dropped to $13 a month.
"I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned. And I thought this has to be a mistake," Gossett said.
The more than $500 monthly decrease is far more than the national average of roughly $90 less per month per person, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the state's SNAP program, wouldn't get into specifics about Howe and Gossett's case. A spokeswoman responded by email saying the agency worked to alert families that a change in benefits was coming when the order expired.
Gossett said he had no idea their drop would be so steep until a letter arrived in January from the state.
"Benefits vary from household to household. That, of course, is a horrible situation to go down to that extent," says Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC.
FRAC is advocating for more government support to fight food insecurity, pointing to issues like the rising cost of food and an increase in need being reported at food pantries nationwide since the emergency order ended.
"There is no way that $13 a month is calibrated to something that would be meaningful and realistic. Everyday people would know that right off the bat," Vollinger said.
While lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate the future of SNAP and how much money will be included for it when the Farm Bill, signed in 2018, expires in September, in Washington state, Gossett and Howe face a grim reality.
"Long term we can't absorb that $500 a month. We don't have the funds to make that up," Gossett said.
Gossett is now making plans to put Howe into a state-sponsored nursing home.
He says they can't afford food on top of the cost of over-the-counter medicine and supplies since their SNAP benefit dropped.
"It just seems like a waste of a life because I'll never get to come home again after that," Howe says.
Gossett and Howe say they are relying on a GoFundMe campaign to make ends meet.
Gossett also launched petitions on Change.org, calling on President Biden and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to address the challenges households with family members with disabilities are facing when it comes to SNAP benefits and support.
"I love him. I just can't imagine my daily life without him in it," Gossett said.
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