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Coronavirus: Demand for food assistance doubles in Minnesota

Food banks are reporting double or triple-sized caseloads since the pandemic began
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The state’s largest food bank says it’s helping twice as many people than usual with applications for food assistance.

Since the coronavirus crisis began in Minnesota, Second Harvest Heartland has received around 2,000 requests for help applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. 

Compared to April 2019, the organization has recorded a 96 percent increase in SNAP referrals and a 138 percent increase in submitted applications, according to a press release.

In March, the organization referred close to double the amount of Ramsey County residents to SNAP than they did last year, with 194 applicants. They directed 437 people from Hennepin County, which is a 34 percent increase from March 2019.  

Anoka, Sherburne and Blue Earth counties have had the greatest percentage increase in applications compared to March 2019, Second Harvest notes, showing a clear spike in the number of first-time applications. The organization has referred 120 people in Anoka, which is a 147 percent increase from last year; 28 in Blue Earth, a 140 percent increase; and 20 in Sherburne, which is twice as many as last year. 

"The reality is that Minnesota’s emergency food system is not robust enough to keep our neighbors fed, especially during this challenging time," Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole said in the statement. "Our SNAP outreach team is working harder than ever to ensure every Minnesotan who needs food assistance — many of whom have never had to navigate this system before — gets it."

For every one meal provided by food banks or similar programs statewide, SNAP provides nine, Second Harvest Heartland said.

Many of the state's 350 food banks are reporting double or triple-sized caseloads since the pandemic began, the Star Tribune reports

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Human Services announced it has received $55 million in emergency SNAP funding through the federal Families First Coronavirus Act.

The DHS will begin issuing emergency supplements on Tuesday — which average $149 — to households that didn’t receive the maximum amount of nutrition assistance in March and April.

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The state estimates the funding will go to approximately 250,000 people in 134,000 households. Qualifying households do not have to take action, and should see the aid added to their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, the DHS said.

"Emergency SNAP supplements will make a real difference to families who need help now," Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said in a statement. "Ensuring that Minnesotans with low incomes have the resources they need to put food on the table is critically important during this pandemic."

Since the subsequent shutdowns related to the pandemic began in mid-March, there have been almost 560,000 applications for unemployment insurance in Minnesota. 

Resources

The Minnesota Food HelpLine can be reached at 1-888-711-1151 or www.mnfoodhelpline.org.

Counties or tribal human services agencies can help people apply for SNAP. Applicants can also go to www.applymn.dhs.mn.gov.

To find a food shelf or meal program near you, visit www.hungersolutions.org.

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