For them, it was a temporary hardship. A chance to experience living in the shoes of people struggling to make every food dollar stretch. They are the congresspersons, anti-hunger advocates, and even some reporters who accepted the Food Stamp Challenge, pledging to live just one week on the same money someone would receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern took the challenge in 2007 back when he led the Congressional Hunger Caucus. He was pushing for an increase in the then $21 a week SNAP payment. The Massachusetts congressman shared his experience on the floor of the House and was frank about how hard it was to stay within the budget during the challenge. McGovern, now recognized nationally as a leading anti-hunger advocate, told NPR, that during the challenge he ate “small portions” and noted it was “impossible to make healthy choices.”McGovern said he was humbled by his constituents whose everyday reality was staving off hunger for themselves and their families.

Massachusetts SNAP recipients receive benefits based on their income and household size. For a family of four with a monthly income of about $4,000, the maximum benefit is $939 monthly, about $234 weekly. It’s important to note that SNAP funds were always meant to be supplemental — extra money for food — in addition to whatever SNAP recipients can also pay out of pocket. Typically, recipients — mostly working poor — can’t add much, so their contribution plus SNAP is usually not enough to keep food in the cupboard.

But COVID emergency funding provided a boost to the regular supplemental payments and offered greater relief for around 650,000 Massachusetts households. Until last week, when the SNAP emergency boosted payments ended. For local SNAP recipients, that means an average of $97 to $280 less monthly at a time when inflation is driving up the cost of everything, but especially the cost of food.

Consumers are paying up to 7% more for dairy products, 10% more for processed food and vegetables, and 5% more for meats. Even Americans who don’t rely on food assistance have been forced to make deep cuts in the family food budget. But experts predict the loss of extra food assistance will push low-income recipients off, what some describe, as a “hunger cliff.”

35-year-old Natalie Sharp of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, told Washington-based newspaper The Hill: “ We have access to local food pantries and aren’t afraid or ashamed to use them.” However, the more than 600 hunger relief agencies statewide partnering with the Greater Boston Food Bank, including food pantries, are already strained, providing food for twice as many as people they did before the pandemic. They are not equipped to fill in the gap. As Catherine Lynn, vice president for communication for the Greater Boston Food Bank explained, “For every meal a food bank provides, SNAP provides 5.”

Gov. Maura Healey put $130 million in her budget to replace 40% of the boosted federal payments for three more months. The House has already moved quickly to pass it. If it also passes the state Senate it will be a temporary stopgap — a much needed one, but temporary. Still a long way from a long-term solution. What will it take for us as a nation to find a better solution and to decide that the very least we can do is make sure people don’t go hungry?