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R.I. food pantries face surge in demand following SNAP benefit decreases last month

Low-income residents report struggles paying for groceries amid SNAP cuts, rising food costs

Most months, the Federal Hill House in Providence receives 50 to 75 new applicants to their food pantry. But last month, they received 157 applications. 

Since temporary increases to benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were rolled back March 1, Providence soup kitchens and food pantries have faced a surge in demand.

Rhode Island residents benefitting from SNAP receive monthly electronic benefit transfers to pay for food. The program offers qualifying one-person households up to $281 per month in baseline benefits, according to the R.I. Department of Human Services. Since federal COVID-19 response legislation was passed in March 2020, households have received supplemental monthly SNAP funding: either an additional $95 or enough to reach their maximum baseline benefits by household size — whichever is greater

On Jan. 9, DHS announced an end to the extra SNAP funding beginning March 1. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicted that the rollback would reduce average monthly SNAP benefits in Rhode Island by $101 per person.


For some food pantries in Providence, the post-reduction surge in demand has been more than they can keep up with.

According to Federal Hill House supervisor and Swiss Street pantry coordinator Jennifer Hill, the pantry usually welcomes up to 75 families each day it operates. But on Tuesday of this week, 107 families had crossed the pantry’s doors by noon. The pantry still had hours to go until closing.

Upon hearing news about SNAP rollbacks, the organization ramped up staffing in anticipation of increased traffic, according to Rev. Michele Matott, director of aging and adult services at Federal Hill House.

Organizations in the 150-member distribution network of the R.I. Community Food Bank have seen an uptick in clients, according to Lisa Blackman, the chief philanthropy officer at the food bank.

“It’s a long time to get used to having the extra money for groceries and it’s at a time when food inflation is so high that everybody’s groceries are costing so much more,” she said. 

Blackman said the rollback of supplemental SNAP funding is “part of a long list of COVID-era benefits that have slowly been expiring,” including federal waivers for free school meals.

The Project Outreach food pantry at Open Table of Christ United Methodist Church and other local food pantries have been “overrun” with demand recently, according to David Arruda, the pastor at Open Table of Christ UMC in Providence and Faith Fellowship in Mansfield, Massachusetts.

The Project Outreach food pantry currently serves 400 to 500 families in the 02905 and 02907 zip codes in South Providence twice weekly, according to Arruda. He described the rollback of additional SNAP benefits as “a tragedy.”

David Banno, CEO and president of Community Action Partnership of Providence County, which runs a food pantry for South Providence residents, said that the food bank served 250 people in March, 200 of whom were SNAP recipients. 

Prior to March 1, Banno said the food bank typically handled five to 10 weekly “emergency cases,” when residents ran out of food.


Since the rollback, that figure has ranged from 30 to 40 weekly cases.

According to Banno, CAPP has been identifying grants to bring in additional funding to pay for more food from R.I. Community Food Bank.

State Rep. David Morales MPA’19 (D-Providence), who recently introduced a bill to restore $95 in additional SNAP benefits for Rhode Islanders starting on July 1, 2023, raised concerns about the ability of food banks to meet demand. 

“I fully expect our food banks to reach capacity over the next couple of months,” Morales told The Herald.

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He added that many residents who lost SNAP benefits and turned to DHS for an explanation have been “stuck waiting on the phone for over an hour.”

“We are aware of the wait times and overall the average is approximately one hour — longer in some cases, as well as shorter for others,” wrote Jim Beardsworth, chief public affairs officer for DHS, in an email to The Herald. “Those who are looking for additional information and don’t want to wait on the phone should visit” the DHS website.

But for residents like Lydia Peoples, the changes to SNAP mean more than a long phone call. Peoples, a South Providence resident, told The Herald that since she stopped receiving around $100 monthly in supplemental SNAP benefits, she has to gather lower-quality food from multiple pantries to get enough to eat. 

She explained she struggles to get fresh vegetables with her reduced benefits, instead finding expired canned foods at pantries and soup kitchens.

In soup kitchens, “everything is canned,” she explained. “Beggars can't be choosers, but a lot of things (in food pantries) are outdated. They’re not going to give you fresh stuff out of the store.”

SNAP benefit decreases aren’t the only reason low-income Rhode Islanders are relying more on food pantries. With food prices increasing nationwide, residents say they have no choice but to buy less from grocery stores.

“With the price of food going up, they don’t even give you enough food stamps anyway,” Peoples said. “Every little thing that I get, I’ve got to make it stretch.”

Veronica Chuya, a Providence resident, attends the Federal Hill House food pantry to help feed herself and her two children.

“Jobs are going short and all of the (food) prices are going higher,” Chuya explained while standing in the pantry. “I have to come here.”

The price hikes are causing some families to make painful decisions — choosing between paying for home bills and food. Peoples discussed increases to her rent alongside the decrease in benefits, adding that sometimes, paying rent to avoid homelessness means not eating altogether.

“You pay your rent, or you feed your family,” Peoples explained. “Either you pay for your lights, or you eat in the dark.”

Neil Mehta

Neil Mehta is the editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald's 134th editorial board. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.

Jacob Smollen

Jacob Smollen is a Metro editor covering city and state politics and co-editor of the Bruno Brief. He is a junior from Philadelphia studying International and Public Affairs.

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