Utah ends pandemic relief for food and rent in March

This additional pandemic aid for food stamps and rent is on the verge of disappearing.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A worker in the pantry at the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, seen in June. Utah officials said Friday that federal emergency assistance for pandemics with food and rent will expire in March 2023.

Emergency relief that has been helping thousands of struggling Utahns with food and rent during the COVID-19 pandemic will soon be halted.

The state Department of Workforce Services confirmed Friday it would halt a pandemic-related increase in federal food stamp benefits next month, and after Sunday the agency will stop accepting requests for emergency assistance with rent and utilities.

Congress approved both programs as part of a series of trillion-dollar relief measures passed during the 2020 public health emergency triggered by COVID-19.

Utah first announced its intention to shut down the programs once they phase out at the federal level in early January.

“We always knew these programs would be temporary,” Nate McDonald, deputy director of the Department of Workforce Services, said at the time. “Fortunately, Utah’s economy offers thousands of job opportunities for those who are looking.”

As of March, about 74,000 Utah households that had received an additional $175 to $200 a month in emergency assistance under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) will no longer receive that grant, the department said, although their eligibility for regular benefits will continue consists .

Emergency Rental Assistance requests passed under the US Bailout Plan will not be accepted after midnight on February 5th. State officials said they would continue to process applications submitted before that date on a first-come, first-served basis until the federal money runs out, likely sometime toward the end of March.

Utah received a total of $344 million in federal rental assistance through the bailout. By the end of last year, state officials had processed more than 97,000 requests for assistance and paid out $287 million to eligible residents.

A recent analysis by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts found that of the nearly $5.2 trillion the US government has spent on its response to COVID-19, one-sixth of that went to states to help deal with the public health emergency and drive their economic recovery.

Utah’s total share of aid funds has surpassed $27.1 billion between the top three pandemic relief measures passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021, according to a May report prepared for state legislatures.

The federal increase in unemployment benefits during the pandemic — which added up to $300 a week to unemployment benefits — ended in September 2021 after governors in 26 states — including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox — began withdrawing from the program over concerns because they feared it would distort labor markets. The state’s economy began to recover.

In December, Utah’s unemployment rate was about 2.2%, after falling to 2% year-on-year, one of the lowest in the country. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 3.5%.

The Department of Workforce Services noted that Cox’s latest budget proposal — now before the Utah Legislature — earmarks $150 million for housing assistance, including assistance for the homeless and those looking to buy their first home. The Republican governor is also asking lawmakers to allocate $800,000 in state funds to food supplies in Utah amid rising food costs.

The department, meanwhile, directs needy Utahans to long-term programs that can help them with heating and water bills, job training and food aid.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/02/04/why-thousands-low-income-utahns/ Utah ends pandemic relief for food and rent in March

Justin Scacco

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