Lots of communication and extra food donations at community pantries and the Idaho Foodbank will be needed as Idaho transitions from issuing benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on the first day of the month to issuing them over the first 10 days of the month.
Planning for the change continued this week as the multi-day transition work group met to determine how grocery stores and community organizations such as the Idaho Foodbank and other food pantries across the state would be affected, and what can be done to support them if SNAP recipients run out of food or are unaware that their benefits are not available before they shop.
“More than anything, we don’t want anyone to be surprised,” said Karen Vauk, president and CEO of the Idaho Foodbank.
The Department of Health and Welfare is required by state legislation passed in the 2015 session to issue benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the first 10 days of the month rather than only on the first day of the month. The change will begin on July 1, 2016, but an adjustment period is likely for grocers and recipients. Grocers lobbied the Legislature to move to a 10-day distribution for benefits because of crowded stores, long lines and inventory challenges on the first of each month. About 192,000 Idahoans, 12 percent of the state’s population, receive nutrition assistance from the SNAP program.
This week’s discussion centered around how to help SNAP recipients have enough food to make it through the extra days until their benefits will be available, as well as how to make sure community and church food pantries have enough food at the right time to be helpful. The timing of the change will be a challenge: July 1 is the Friday of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The Fourth of July is a Monday, when state offices, the Idaho Foodbank, and most food pantries are closed, leaving few options for SNAP recipients who may not be fully aware of the change.
The group estimated additional food (6-8 truckloads of food at the Idaho Foodbank alone) will be needed at food pantries to help SNAP recipients make it to their new date of distribution. That food will be collected in late May and early June so it can be distributed when it’s needed at the end of June and beginning of July.
Everyone agrees that communication early and often is critical. All SNAP recipients who receive their benefits after July 1 will be affected. Grocery stores and other vendors are likely to see confused and unaware recipients who will need guidance on what they can do until their benefits are available. The Idaho Foodbank and food pantries expect to see an increase in the number of people who need additional food. About 45 percent of food pantry users are also SNAP recipients. The trick will be making sure everyone is planning ahead.
“We’re trying to make sure the implementation goes smoothly, but the communication needs to be ongoing,” said Lori Wolff, administrator of the Division of Welfare and the meeting moderator.
The communication plan will be the main topic of discussion at the group’s next meeting in November. Detailed plans to communicate with customers through multiple venues will be strategized.