State adds up cost of FoodShare aid lost with health emergency’s cancelation

    Sorting canned goods on a long table for food bank
    (Joel Muniz | Unsplash)

    The state Supreme Court ruling that ended Wisconsin’s public health emergency March 31 will cost residents who depend on federal food aid more than $50 million a month, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported Wednesday.

    When the emergency was in effect, Wisconsin qualified for an additional $57.5 million each month in increased benefits under the FoodShare program that went to about 255,000 households, according to Elizabeth Goodsitt, a DHS spokesperson..

    FoodShare is the Wisconsin version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes referred to as ‘food stamps.’ The federal aid comes through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    More than 400,000 households in the state, with more than 770,000 people, currently participate in the program. It provides food assistance to people with low incomes, including working families, low-income seniors and people with disabilities who live on fixed incomes. Enrollment has increased by 140,000 people in the pandemic.

    “It allows families to put food on the table and ensure that children do not go hungry. It also allows families to stretch their budgets for other critical needs such as prescription drugs, rent, diapers, and other household essentials,” says Goodsitt

    More than one in three households that use FoodShare include children, and 43% include people who are elderly or have disabilities, according to DHS. Besides FoodShare participants, grocery stores, farmers and food transport trucking firms also will see lower revenues because of the loss of additional FoodShare dollars, she says.

    The state’s FoodShare boost began in March 2020 with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was contingent on the state having a public health emergency in place. The emergency allotment stretched the average monthly food benefits by an extra week, according to Goodsitt, with the average household able to use its benefits for 23 days a month in December 2020 before they ran out, compared with 16 days a month in December 2019.

    To date Wisconsin has received an additional $500 million under the program since the public health emergency started.

    The added funds are still available in April, but will be cut off beginning in May. “If the public health emergency had lasted another full day, FoodShare members would have been able to receive increased allotments at least through the month of May, because USDA allows us to apply for emergency allotments for one subsequent month following any month that an emergency declaration is in place,” Goodsitt says.

    The funds that Wisconsin is forgoing may actually be higher, because USDA has increased funding for the program. “We are still working on calculating the exact dollar amount, but Wisconsin will lose millions more,” she adds.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.