SAN DIEGO (KSWB) –  Nearly five million Californians are bracing for a major cut in benefits aimed at alleviating food insecurity as two critical pandemic relief programs are set to end in the coming months, despite the cost of groceries continuing to rise.

The programs, CalFresh emergency allotments and Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT), will end in March and May respectively – deadlines that were established by the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 signed last December.

The CalFresh emergency allotments built on top of existing CalFresh offerings funded by the federal SNAP program, automatically raising the stipend recipients received for purchasing groceries to the maximum amount – an increase by at least $95 per month since March 2020.

P-EBT provided additional funds to families experiencing food insecurity with school-age or young children who would have received free or reduced price meals at school, allowing them to pay for the meals lost as a result of COVID-related school closures.

With the last allotment of CalFresh emergency funds this month, participating households will see a return to pre-pandemic amounts, determined by qualifications like income, employment status and household size. 

“Households will receive their regular CalFresh benefit allotment amount beginning April 2023 as long as they remain eligible,” the Department of Social Services said in a statement to

For those that are only eligible for the minimum CalFresh amounts, this could be a drop from $281 to $23 per month.

P-BET is set to end with the end of the federal Public Health Emergency status on May 11, 2023, ending the program that reached nearly 4.2 million children in the state in 2020-21 for the upcoming school year.

Between the two programs, about 3.09 billion meals were paid for in 2021 across the state, according to the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) – about one-third of all meals provided through the state’s food safety net.

Without these programs, advocates say that a hunger crisis will begin to emerge in the coming months.

“It’s going to be really devastating,” Becky Silva, government relations director at CAFB, said to “It’s going to be a sudden and really dramatic drop to benefits that they’ve come to rely upon to feed themselves and their families.”

This comes as the demand for food insecurity relief has increased across the state, driven by the rising cost of groceries. 

According to the DSS, the number of households currently participating in CalFresh is at the highest level it has been in the last decade, with nearly three million enrolled.

Part of that increase is tied to changes in federal rules that have made benefits more accessible, according to DSS’s statement – most recently, the determination by Department of the Homeland Security that a noncitizen’s application for SNAP funds would not prevent them from becoming a permanent resident under the “public charge” clause of current immigration law.

Experiencing food insecurity? Learn more about how CalFresh could help you

“It should be noted that as a State with a large immigrant population, federal policy on issues such as public charge can have a significant impact on enrollment,” DSS said. “We continue our efforts to expand access, such as those to reduce barriers… Moving forward, this work will remain a critical aspect of our strategies to reach people who are eligible.”

Meanwhile, prices for food at home increased by 13.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – the largest over-the-year increase since 1979.

In states that have already ended emergency allotments, the skyrocketing cost of food has translated into consistently higher levels of food insecurity, resulting in more people skipping meals, eating less and more visits to food pantries, according to findings from a study published earlier this year.

“The benefit amount…that’s supposed to support somebody throughout the entirety of a month,” Silva said. “$23 per month is just not adequate for anybody to be able to supplement their monthly food purchasing with that meager amount.”

Those people who cannot cover their living expenses with what they will be receiving will likely end up turning to food banks, she continued, to feed themselves or their families.

“It’s going to be really difficult for food banks to keep up with the demand,” Silva said. “Food banks are already operating beyond their capacity.”

A survey conducted by CAFB found that most local food banks were serving one-and-a-half to three times the number of people currently compared to the number in 2019.

Several bills are currently before California lawmakers that would mitigate the impact of the gap in the state’s food safety net with the loss of the CalFresh emergency allotments and P-EBT, including a proposal that would raise the state CalFresh minimum from $23 to $50 per month.

“In California, we’re a state with one of the highest costs of living in the entire country,” Silva said. “We want to make sure that California’s funding is really protected in the state budget to ensure that food banks have all the resources they need to keep serving the demand in their communities.”