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'Hunger cliff' at end of increased SNAP benefits hits older adults hard

The Colorado DHS said the average individual decrease in benefits will be about $90 as a temporary boost approved at the height of the pandemic comes to an end.

DENVER — Watercolor paintings by Jean Richards hang around her home, but these days the kitchen is her canvas -- and food from around the world is her art. 

She cooks Italian she learned from friends in a neighborhood in Connecticut, Mexican from another family and Vietnamese from a cookbook she keeps in her kitchen.

But she doesn't know how much longer she can afford the ingredients to make these meals. After her husband died, she signed up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits to afford groceries.

Richards came to rely upon the monthly payments, but this month, she said, the amount has decreased from $250 to $24. 

"I don't think it helps. I don't think it helps anybody at all," she said. "What can you buy for $24 for a whole month?"

More than half a million people across Colorado are experiencing similar dropoffs in benefits as a federally-approved temporary boost to the program approved during the height of the pandemic comes to an end. 

The average individual decrease in benefits will be about $90, the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) said. But anti-hunger advocates warned that older adults may be disproportionally affected. 

"For me, it means I have to use equity out of my house to afford to be able to buy groceries," Richards said. "I never thought in a million years that I would be in this situation. I never thought it would happen."

The state said it can't do anything to appeal the benefit changes because the amounts are set by the federal government. DHS said now is an especially tough time for the benefits to decrease because inflation has driven up food prices. 

The state recommends stocking up and stretching ingredients -- advice Richards has heeded. Her fridge is full of food. 

"That's because I'm creative in making those meals stretch," she said.


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