SEBRING — Adam, an 89-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who served in the early 1950s, went to the grocery store this past week.

Usually he divides out a $230-per-month Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allocation to get a moderate amount of groceries for each week, consisting of two packages of chicken breasts and fruit and vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, oranges, apples and bananas.

This time, he only received $19 — for the month. It was enough for just the chicken, he said, and nothing else.

“I wasn’t pleased,” said the soft-spoken, lean man with a firm handshake.

Adam, using just his first name, is a client of Hope Haven, a homeless-to-rent/owner program headed up by Leslie Behm, who currently serves 54 people paying rent at Safari Inn and another 51 people in other locations.

Almost all have been affected by sudden drops in SNAP benefits, Behm said, and are among the ones least able to afford it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides SNAP, administered at the state level by the Florida Department of Children and Families, to supplement food budgets for needy families, help them purchase healthy food and move them towards self-sufficiency.

“[Adam’s] doctor has said he needs to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Behm said, which he can’t get on less than $20 per month. “Why take that away?”

State officials did not renew Florida’s COVID-19 emergency declaration at the end of June, and it expired. The Florida Policy Institute — a non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to advancing policies and budgets to improve economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians — reports that out of the 1.83 million Florida households who participate in SNAP, more than 1.7 million households received benefits from more than $286 million in Emergency SNAP Allotments.

Congress has allowed states to provide Emergency SNAP Allotments during the pandemic to bring families’ benefits up to the maximum amount for their size of household. Two people, for example, could get up to $430, or a minimum is $19, depending on income and expenses prior to the emergency allotments.

Those allotments, however, are only available as long as both state and federal governments have a COVID-related emergency declaration in place, FPI reports. Without the state declaration, allotments have lapsed.

Congress included a 15% increase through the month of September without the requirement of an emergency declaration from the state to be in effect, but many families began to see cuts to their assistance as of Oct. 1, as their cases were updated for the fiscal year.

Juan, another Hope Haven client using just his first name, lost his wife three years ago this December to cancer. His daughter, 12, has been undergoing cancer treatments, too, while he manages a restaurant. His is a similar situation for many, Behm said.

His SNAP benefits dropped to $12 and he’s opted not to take anything for now, hoping he and his fiancé can make ends meet. He said it’s hard as a single father to sacrifice, but necessary.

“I can’t imagine, if it happened to me, how many more families with kids were affected,” Juan said. “Every little bit counts. Every little bit helps.”

FPI states that economic safety net programs help both struggling families and their local communities, because those families buy groceries in communities still suffering economically from the pandemic. FPI reports that more than 60% of Florida’s SNAP families have children, 47% have seniors or people with a disability and 39% are working.

Behm said aside from a few retirees, her people work, especially those paying rent at Safari Inn. It’s a requirement, along with building up a savings, she said, but the hit in food benefits will cause many of them to draw down their savings again.

Lydia, an 82-year-old retired nurse who raised her 39-year-old grandson from when he was 5, said she was almost homeless when evicted by a landlord until Hope Haven provided shelter. She was almost without groceries, she said, until Behm stepped in.

“She left me two bags of groceries,” said Lydia, also using just her first name. “Then, she brings them in for me.”

Behm said she will find a way to make sure her families and individuals have food each week so they can keep moving forward.

“They will be fine until ‘next Friday,’” Behm said. “I won’t let these guys down.”

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