The most recent census data shows that 24.5 million Americans sometimes or often report not having enough to eat in the week between July 27 and August 8. This is against 21 million in December and 18 million a year ago.
Approximately $1.5 billion will be allocated to food banks. According to the latest survey from Feeding America, the largest network of food charities, 40% of member food banks saw an increase in the number of people served in July compared to June. Another 40 percent of food banks said that even in the face of low unemployment, they have seen no reduction in need in recent months.
“Talking to food banks and pantries across the country, here’s what we’re hearing,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “The demand is high, in terms of need, costs have gone up, work – whether paid or volunteer – is a struggle and donations have gone down because people think the pandemic is in the rear view mirror.”
The universal free school meals scheme is about to expire
Another $500 million will go to schools to buy food for their lunch and breakfast programs, Vilsack said. During the pandemic, the federal government gave more money for school nutrition programs, and all American school children were offered free school meals without demonstrating the need. This emergency program has just ended.
The money comes from the Commodity Credit Corporation, created by an obscure act of the Great Depression intended to “stabilize, support and protect farm incomes and prices”.
Donations are down, supplies purchased by food banks have become much more expensive, and the need is back, said Jason Jakubowski, general manager of Connecticut Foodshare in Wallingford, Connecticut.
“Anecdotally, what we’re hearing is that a lot of it is due to inflation – that’s people’s biggest concern,” he said. Before the pandemic, about 70% of the food they distributed was donated. It’s about 55 percent now. Monetary donations have been strong, he said, but nonetheless things look grim.
“We know spending $16 million a year on food purchases is unsustainable,” he said. Food banks spend their cash reserves, reducing operating costs to buy enough food.
Food banks are themselves faced with rising food prices. The Food Index rose 11.4% in August from a year ago, the biggest 12-month increase since the period ending in May 1979, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released tuesday. Peanut butter, a mainstay of food banks, is an example.
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Connecticut Foodshare uses a peanut butter trailer every few weeks. That’s one pot each for about 34,560 households. The food bank isn’t brand loyal, and they’re not bigoted about creamy versus chunky. But no matter how they split it, a trailer of peanut butter now costs $7,000 more than it did 16 months ago.
This new rise in U.S. food insecurity follows promising data on the effectiveness of pandemic relief programs.
According to the USDA Food Security Report released last week, 2021 saw the lowest rate of food insecurity among all individuals and children on record.
The main conclusion of the report: the number of children facing hunger in 2021 has dropped dramatically. Last year, 9 million children in the United States lived in households considered “food insecure”, or about 1 in 8 children. Not only is this a substantial drop from 2019 and 2020 and at the peak of the pandemic, but it’s also the lowest number on record since the USDA started tracking this in 1998.
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For Erica Richardson, 50, of Salisbury, Maryland, making ends meet during the pandemic has been difficult, but she says it’s gotten even harder over the past two months.
She receives about $300 a month for food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what used to be called food stamps, and an additional $328 from the Temporary Disability Assistance Program. Richardson is disabled, she said, suffering from asthma, diabetes and COPD.
“Now the prices are going up, and that’s why food stamps aren’t enough. I noticed it last month and the month before. And sometimes it’s hard to get food through food banks,” she said.
She goes once a month, on a Tuesday or Thursday, to Salisbury Urban Ministries, around the corner from the house she shares with a friend. She receives a shopping bag full of meats, canned goods and toiletries, but even with that regular help, it’s been hard to make ends meet recently, she said.
Tough times are about to get tougher as the federal government prepares to lift the coronavirus public health emergency, which has increased allocations for SNAP and other assistance programs, said Vilsak.
Rising food prices nationwide are pushing more Americans to food banks
SNAP usage has grown by more than 4 million recipients during the pandemic and all participants have experienced maximum benefits. The Food Research and Action Center has calculated that with the end of emergency allocations, which Vilsack says could happen as early as October, 41 million SNAP recipients will lose an average of $82 in food benefits per month and some households will see their benefits drop to as much as $200 per month.
The Maryland Food Bank saw a sharp increase in inbound calls for SNAP assistance between March and June, compared to the same time last year, said Joanna Warner, the food bank’s communications director. And between March and May, the number of Marylanders relying on the food bank’s network of food assistance partners increased by 30%, according to the food bank’s analysis of caller data and visits to the pantry.
The food bank has doubled the number of pounds of food it purchases and the price it pays per pound has more than doubled, Warner said.
“Whatever the hardship factors, people are losing ground, that’s what we hear,” she said.
And with most U.S. schools back in session, school nutrition administrators continue to grapple with labor shortages, rising food costs and supply chain issues that can leave districts without sellers of milk or essential ingredients, said Donna Martin, director of Burke County’s school nutrition program. , Ga.
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To add to the challenges, she said, getting families to fill out applications for free and reduced-price meals for the first time since the pandemic began, which will leave schools with a “meal debt because families will not complete applications and will not. have money to pay for meals,” she said.
According to Vilsack, this new money for schools is the third round of supply chain assistance funds to purchase foods such as fresh fruit, milk, cheese, frozen vegetables and ground meat. Each state will allocate the funds to schools based on student enrollment, with a minimum amount per district to ensure that small schools are not left behind.
The money given to schools will allow them to start placing orders by the end of this calendar year and deliveries of staple foods to food banks will take place on an ongoing basis throughout fiscal years 2023 and 2024.