SCRANTON – Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton is preparing to assist more individuals and families with putting food on the table after a pandemic-era program that provided extra payments to Americans who quality of food stamps ended on March 1.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress permitted states to issue extra money to food stamp recipients under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a move advocates said would help low-income families who lost their jobs amid the crisis.
The change affects Pennsylvania’s 1.9 million SNAP recipients. The average eligible household will lose $95 a month for groceries and comes at a time when many grocery items – including milk, eggs and wheat – remain high due to inflation.
“We are already starting to see an abundance of new individuals and families,” LeeAnn Lywiski, manager of the Saint Joseph Food Pantry in Hazleton, said. “In one day alone, we registered 15 new families.”
Catholic Social Services operates food pantries in Carbondale, Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre and partners with Saint Francis Kitchen in Scranton, which operates the Saint Francis Client-Choice Food Pantry.
Catholic Social Services pantry managers expect people to have a lot of anxiousness and anxiety but want to reassure those in need their agency is ready to help people access the food they need and deserve.
“In speaking to one of our senior citizen clients recently about the change, they were concerned about not having enough food for the month,” Mike Cianciotta, manager of the Saint Vincent de Paul Pantry in Wilkes-Barre, said. “I reassured them that we will be increasing the amount of products we provide at our food bank.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Catholic Social Services has continued to respond to increasing need at its food pantries.
For example, between January 2022 and 2023, the Carbondale food pantry saw nearly a 20-percent increase in the number of families served – going from 687 to 835 families in each respective month.
“We are dedicated to making sure every client that walks through the door is served with the utmost respect. We strive to make sure our brothers and sisters feel better about their situation when they walk out our door,” Kara Gnall, Carbondale office supervisor, explained.
In Scranton, the numbers are even more startling.
Prior to the pandemic, the Saint Francis Client-Choice Food Pantry served approximately 300 families each month. Now, the facility is consisting hitting the 700 family mark.
“We get new families every day. We have committed to having fresh produce, milk, eggs and meat when we can. I am anticipating an even larger uptick” manager Adam Lynch said. “We have a Food Policy Council meeting once a month to discuss changes and what is coming next and this was in our last discussion, the food stamps and benefits changing and the need that will be increasing.”
The federal reductions to SNAP benefits is the first of two major changes that will likely impact Catholic Social Services food pantries.
Additionally, the 2023 cost of living adjustment for Social Security Income (SSI), which is set by the federal government, prompted an 8.7 percent increase to SSI income. SNAP eligibility thresholds – also set at the federal level – did not rise proportionally. Because of this, approximately 249,000 Pennsylvania households will experience a decrease in their base SNAP benefits by an average of $40 per household, which also took effect March 1. Approximately 5,000 to 20,000 households will lose SNAP altogether due to the SSI increase. These federal reductions will primarily affect older Pennsylvanians and seniors.
Catholic Social Services is only able to meet the increasing needs in our community because of generous donors who support its live-saving work.
“Northeastern Pennsylvania has always been known as the Valley with a Heart and because of many kind-hearted people, who donate $20, $50 or whatever they can, we are able to make sure food and other resources are available,” Joe Mahoney, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, emphasized.