Efforts to retain SNAP benefits continue

Workers unload major donation of food from ConocoPhillips
Workers unload major donation of food from ConocoPhillips
Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration that expired in mid-February and was not renewed by the state legislature has put Alaska in danger of losing millions of dollars in funding for the Supplemental Food Program known as SNAP. The state began receiving the extra funding when the pandemic started, according to the Food Bank of Alaska’s Cara Durr.

Durr says the funding is substantial and will expire at the end of the month, if the disaster declaration is not renewed.

“The SNAP benefit boosts that are at risk because the state has not declared a disaster are worth about $8 million a month,” said Durr.” And to put that in perspective, it’s the equivalent of about 2.2 million meals monthly.”

The Alaska legislature has not acted to restore the emergency declaration although a house bill, HB 76, is moving forward. The bill has two hearings scheduled this week in the Health and Social Services Committee, including one Thursday when public testimony will be accepted.

There were legal questions regarding whether Governor Mike Dunleavy had the authority to extend the now-expired emergency declaration. Instead, he directed the Department of Health and Social Services to see how the state could continue to receive the extra benefits. Department Spokesperson Clinton Bennett said they are working directly with the federal Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to try and continue benefits as part of the state’s recovery efforts to COVID-19.

“FNS believes there is flexibility within their regulatory language for Alaska to continue receiving these benefits without a disaster declaration,” Bennett wrote in an email. “We will continue to work with the legislature to ensure that we have the necessary authorities for our ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery plan.”

One person who hopes the issue can be resolved is Catholic Social Services Director Lisa Aquino. Aquino said CSS’s St. Francis Food Pantry is serving more people than ever before, a situation that is likely to continue for some time.

“We are at risk of losing SNAP benefits for vulnerable people,” she said. “To lose them right now while we are still in the crux of the pandemic and the economic challenges related to the pandemic, it feels impossible,” she said. “I don’t know what we are going to do.”

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