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Okla. SNAP Recipients Get Reprieve As Feds Grant Extension Of COVID Emergency Supplemental Aid

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U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Thousands of Oklahoma families who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will not have their pandemic emergency allotments cut off on June 30 as previously announced, state and federal officials said Friday. 

Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) announced in a news release that her office had worked in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to secure the extension.

"The COVID19 pandemic has put a strain on our families and seniors who rely on SNAP benefits for food security. Oklahomans are returning to work, but our most vulnerable citizens should not worry about where their next meal is coming from," Bice said. "This extension will provide them access to the supplemental nutrition they need now and ensure that our community partners, like the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, have the time to return to normal operation. I applaud Secretary Brown for his work negotiating this agreement."

"SNAP Emergency Allotments can only be spent on groceries and allow nonprofit partners to focus their resources on those who do not qualify for the program or are in emergency situations," Bice's office noted in the release. "More than 70% of Oklahoma’s SNAP participants are families with children; over 32% of participants are families who have elderly or disabled members. These services have returned $472 million taxpayer dollars back to Oklahoma in just the first five months of 2021."

When Gov. Kevin Stitt declared an end to Oklahoma's COVID-19 state of emergency on May 3, advocates sounded the alarm, warning the action triggered an end to the additional funds for qualifying Oklahomans. The move meant $31 million less in aid per month for the up to 168,000 Oklahoma residents who rely on the program, according to a Hunger Free Oklahoma estimate.

“OKDHS is fortunate to have outstanding relationships with our federal delegation and partner agencies," agency director Justin Brown said in a statement. "Those partnerships will now benefit the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who utilize SNAP benefits to feed their families. We are grateful to Congresswoman Bice, Governor Stitt, Food and Nutrition Services, and many other partners for supporting our agency as we sought this flexibility on their behalf."

Keili McEwen, communications director at OKDHS, said Friday that agency officials were relieved.

"It's our largest program, and a lot of Oklahoma families depend on it," McEwen said. 

"We know that the pandemic is improving in Oklahoma. Fortunately, COVID -- we see our numbers improve every day," McEwen said. "But we do know that COVID is still a reality for many Oklahomans, and that it's been hard on Oklahoma families. And our mission at DHS, first and foremost, is to provide for the wellbeing of our fellow Oklahomans."

McEwen said the emergency allotments will extend through Dec. 31 or the end of the federal pandemic emergency declaration, whichever comes first. She said the agency's close collaboration with their federal partners in recent years helped the process of securing the extension for needy  families.

Leaders from three leading Oklahoma food security nonprofits issued a joint statement applauding the announcement.

"As Oklahoma’s most vulnerable continue to recover from the economic impact of this pandemic, we must leverage every available resource to support them," wrote Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma CEO Stacy Dykstra, and Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma Chief Culinary Officer Jeff Marlow.

"We are thankful to Secretary Brown for his tireless work to find and implement a solution which helps Oklahomans to continue to put food on the table. Secretary Brown and Congresswoman Bice’s leadership and collaboration demonstrates what can be achieved through partnership at the federal, state, and local levels. Food-insecure Oklahomans and all of those who serve them can rest a little bit easier tonight.”

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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