Soaring food and fuel prices are pushing many struggling Americans back to food banks
“I flew it,” said Lewis, who studies history. “There are nights when I don’t eat because I only have enough to feed them. I’ll eat what’s left on their plates. I just tell them I’m not hungry.
Even as coronavirus rates continue to fall and the US labor market is on the verge of a full recovery from the pandemic, food banks are seeing a further increase in need. Most pandemic-era assistance programs have ended, inflation is rising, and many Americans are once again struggling to make ends meet.
Food bank officials are reporting growing lines at their distribution centers nationwide. And reported hunger rates have risen since early August, when 7.8% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” didn’t have enough to eat, according to census data Household Survey Data. In early February, 10.2% of respondents said their household sometimes did not have enough to eat. This increase is greater for households with children, reaching 13.1%, although outside the pandemic peaks.
In late January and early February, after Child Tax Credit payments ended, 35% of adults living in households with children said they struggled to cover usual expenses, according to census data.
“Make no mistake, people are still struggling. They are struggling in Richmond and across the country,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “My fear, and the fear of many mayors, is that many of our residents will return to chow lines. We want to keep the social safety net intact. It’s still needed as people get back on their feet.
Stoney was among those from the American Conference of Mayors who sent a letter to Congress on Thursday to urge them to support extending expanded eligibility and increasing federal nutrition program benefit levels.
Inflation is the new challenge, said Thomas Mantz, chief executive of Feeding Tampa Bay, one of a network of 200 food banks nationwide.
“There’s been a slight recovery and that’s good, but another concern is that inflation is driving up prices in three key areas,” Mantz said. “For many Americans, 30-40% of their budget is spent on rent, food and gas. But for the families we serve, it’s more like 60%. So you have families for whom instability revisits them significantly now.
Although the economy has recovered for many Americans and child and stimulus tax credits helped many families last year, there are still many families shedding the financial impact of extended leaves or reduced household incomes, said Kyle Waide, president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
“While the distribution of food to neighbors in need has declined since the peak of the pandemic, the Atlanta Community Food Bank continues to see the need for food assistance significantly higher, up to 30%, compared to pre-pandemic needs,” Waide said.
Inflation data published in March indicates substantial price increases in gasoline, shelter and food. The gasoline index rose 6.6% in February and accounted for almost a third of the monthly increase. The food index saw the biggest monthly increases since April 2020.
Foodsmart, a telehealth meal planning and meal ordering app, reported an increase in users calling themselves food insecure in recent months, with the majority of members saying “healthy foods cost too much “.
“The economic impacts of covid-19 will linger for years to come, long after the health risks of the virus have subsided,” said Radha Muthiah, managing director of the Capital Area Food Bank, which serves the Washington, DC area. “We know that the needs are still significantly higher and we expect them to remain so. Anecdotally, many of our partners are still seeing higher volumes of individuals coming through their doors, some up to two or three times their pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, federal programs that were meant to help food banks have expired, while food costs have risen, meaning the Capital Region’s budget for food purchases is seven times what it is. it was before the pandemic, Muthiah said.
Nationally, Feeding America network food banks in February still transported twice as many trucks of food as in February 2020, and transport costs increased by 20%, the Feeding America spokeswoman said, Zuani Villarreal. And what’s in those trucks costs more. A truckload of canned tuna cost $46,000 in February 2020 and now costs $57,000; a peanut butter truck used to cost about $34,000 and now costs $40,000; a truckload of diced tomatoes used to cost $15,000 and now costs $23,000.
Most food banks claim that the costs of purchasing food are rising, and they are also pay more for transmission and distribution, while declaring labor shortages. Feed America asked Congress more funding to buy food by increasing money through the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Washington Post that $100 million in new grants has been made available to state emergency food assistance program agencies, and that the USDA has purchasing authority through a separate program to supplement the products needed by food banks. Vilsack said he understands that food banks face difficult situations.
“We can always take a look at buying food. But what we have here is a situation where we have a lot of demand and an unstable supply. We’re addressing the supply chain issue, but it’s going to take time,” Vilsack said, adding that the USDA “is very limited in terms of what we can do, in the absence of Congressional appropriations. , or a waiver power, or what remains. which was not allocated as part of pandemic relief.