Food assistance money in jeopardy after Alaska loses state COVID-19 emergency declaration

A volunteer at the Food Bank of Alaska restocking items
A volunteer at the Food Bank of Alaska restocking items(Taylor Clark)
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 4:37 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When the statewide emergency COVID-19 declaration ended Sunday, it put food assistance benefits for thousands of Alaskans in limbo.

The commissioner for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Adam Crum, says the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program typically provides Alaskans $15 million to $16 million each month in benefits. Congress increased that number last year to address food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When Alaska lawmakers failed to act on the emergency declaration, that placed the additional $8 million a month the state has received through SNAP since April in jeopardy.

The financial loss impacts about 60% of the 70,000 people who rely on SNAP, according to the Food Bank of Alaska.

“That one snuck up on us,” Crum said in a Zoom interview from Juneau.

Crum says the state is in the process of seeing if it can get a waiver from the federal government to continue receiving the additional money.

“There is absolutely still a chance on this,” he said. “Our partners at the federal level understand the predicament we’re in and they understand.”

Crum says his office is checking in almost daily to see if the waiver has been approved by Food and Nutrition Service, the federal agency responsible for administering the money.

“A hard stop of not receiving benefits is not helping anyone out, particularly in winter months so we want to be sure that this money can come back in place,” Crum said.

The Food Bank of Alaska says it’s already breaking records in the amount of food it’s provided to Alaskans during the pandemic.

“Looking at 2020 and the impacts of the pandemic, in the latter half of 2020 we distributed 43% more pounds than in the same time in the year before, which is a huge increase,” said Cara Durr, director of public engagement for the Food Bank of Alaska.

Durr says she was disappointed to see the money was put in jeopardy.

“It such a great resource for people during this time to have those benefits,” Durr said.

While Durr was being interviewed, a steady stream of people collected food to be given to Alaskans. The fresh vegetables, meat and milk are the most popular, Durr said. A forklift loaded a pallet of food to be shipped to rural Alaska.

Durr says that for every dollar in SNAP benefits the state receives it translates to $1.70 in economic activities.

“We just know the need is so great right now,” Durr said.

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