Impact of pandemic on need for SNAP benefits

Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 6:04 PM CST
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MINOT, N.D. – Since the beginning of the pandemic, food insecurity has become a worry for many North Dakotans.

As companies again cut hours, workers are looking to food assistance programs to help meet their needs this holiday season.

According to North Dakota Human Services, this March more than 22,000 North Dakota households received SNAP benefits, and by April that number ballooned to just over 25,000.

The spike followed the Governor’s executive order to temporarily close places like movie theaters, salons, and bars.

“The fewer people that are able to work their normal jobs and such, the more people are in need of those services. So we did see actually quite a rise in the number of applications during that time, and we expected that,” said Ward County Social Services Director Melissa Bliss.

Since then, the number of people enrolled in the SNAP program dropped significantly in July, only to rise again in October.

“It’s not something unusual for our numbers to go up at holiday time, but in times of COVID I think there are probably going to be more people in need of that additional assistance,” said Bliss.

Food banks in the region said they have also noticed the increased demand for food.

“We have distributed an additional 3 million meals since March. That’s additional on top of what we’re doing,” said Great Plains Food Bank Communications Manager Jared Slinde.

Great Plains began helping families in signing up for the benefits to address the growing need they were seeing.

“It’s a critical time for a lot of people, so we want to do all we can to be able to provide these services for anyone that needs them because the reality is there is a lot of people facing food insecurity for the first time right now,” said Slinde.

Bliss said with restrictions on jobs that employ hourly workers preparing to tighten once more, she would not be shocked if the need for assistance increases again in the near future.

“It is difficult for a lot of people and again, that’s what we’re here,” said Bliss.

Applicants are encouraged to apply over the phone due to COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, The U.S. spent roughly $85.6 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program For Fiscal Year 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020.

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