© Reuters People get free groceries at the Affordable Hope food pantry in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Aug. 29, 2022. REUTERS/Eric Cox
By Christopher Walljasper
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Grace Melt made her first visit to the Nourishing Hope food pantry on Chicago’s North Side in August. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she was out of work due to a knee injury and was buying food stamps from the federal government.
But this winter, food stamps couldn’t keep up with rising grocery prices, sending her searching for food donations for the first time.
“It’s definitely not enough. It won’t last until the end of the month,” he said of food stamp benefits. And now they have increased the price… so now you have to come to the food pantry to fill up.
Rising hunger is a concern as US President Joe Biden prepares to host the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in more than 50 years and vows to end hunger in the United States by 2030. Voters can punish their Democratic Party. Inflation is the top priority for voters in the midterm elections in November, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The Biden administration increased funding for food stamps a year ago, but at the same time, the Trump administration It bought about half as much food as it did in 2020, including for food banks, schools and Native American reservations, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Department (USDA) source.
Rising food prices are eroding food prices to an average of $231 a month per capita in 2022, according to USDA data, sending more people to food banks and receiving less food from the government.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food at home rose 13.5% year over year in August, the largest 12-month increase since 1979, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Food prices have hit record highs worldwide since Russia invaded Ukraine, a major grain producer.
Hunger rates this winter have also risen to levels not seen since the outbreak began, when lockdowns threw supply chains into chaos.
“This is a problem that started to develop in 2021 and is rapidly getting worse,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks. “Most American food banks are seeing their lines grow every week.”
Some advocates have argued for spending more on food stamps or cash distributions, which would give people more choice than food giveaways and also benefit local businesses. The Trump administration’s lunchbox program has been criticized as inefficient and was ended by the Biden administration, which kept money in families’ pockets through expanded child tax credit payments until it expired last December.
Nearly 1 in 6 families reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough food, and for families with children, food insecurity rose to 16.21 percent. The epidemic fell to 9.49 percent in August 2021, due in part to child tax credit payments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
‘We just have to do it’
After the Trump and Biden administrations helped families buy groceries, delivered billions in emergency food boxes and sent monthly child tax credit payments, hunger decreased in 2021. [L1N2QG1LZ]
But as pandemic restrictions eased, so did the demand for Congress and some states to support famine prevention efforts.
In the year In fiscal year 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $8.38 billion on nearly 4.29 billion pounds of food for food pantries, schools and Native American reservations. But food spending is down nearly 42 percent from 2020 to 2022, set to reach $3.49 billion, the lowest since 2018. The agency bought just 2.43 billion pounds of food last year, according to data obtained by Reuters.
USDA seeks to offset nearly $31 billion in additional food purchases from 2020 to 2022 with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Outbreak of emergency outbreak notification and stricter criteria on who qualifies.
James Carvelli, who works in construction, said the Nourishing Hope food pantry keeps him fed when work is slow. He doesn’t qualify for food stamps, and he noticed the pantry was running low on some items.
“We’ll do it now — they got what they got, and I appreciate it,” he said.
The USDA recently announced it will buy $943 million in additional food by 2024, using Produce Loan Corporation funds, which typically allocate loans and payments to U.S. farmers to compensate for disasters or low commodity prices. The added funds will leave USDA poised to spend less on food in the coming years than 2020 and 2021, despite continued demand.
The Agriculture Department, which was asked for comment, pointed to drastic cuts in pandemic funding authorized by Congress that would limit the agency’s spending to food banks and schools, many of which have canceled summer meal programs.
The American College of Nutrition lamented the elimination of some additional food assistance measures from the $430 billion inflation-reduction bill passed into law in August, including investments in child nutrition and a permanent summer EBT program, a benefit designed to fill the gap in school meals. They are not available.
“In earlier versions of this bill… there were very important priorities for fighting hunger, which unfortunately were not in the final version,” he said.
This year, the USDA is on track to buy more than half of the food it bought during the outbreak, and donations from grocers and food distributors are helping businesses tighten supply chains and reduce waste.
The Greater Chicago Food Pantry, one of the nation’s largest local food pantries, expects to receive just one-third of the food it receives from the USDA this year in fiscal year 2021 (July 2020 to June 2021).
As food supplies dwindle, inflation is pushing many Americans into food pantries for the first time. Chicago-area food pantries saw an 18 percent increase in visitors in July from a year ago, according to the Greater Chicago Food Pantry.
In the year In October 2021, USDA added food stamp allocations by updating the Counter Food Plan, the agency’s measure of the household grocery basket. Food stamp benefits for fiscal year 2022 are on track to reach $114.9 billion, down slightly from 2021 but up 36.87 percent from 2020.
But the 18 states that ended emergency declarations saw monthly SNAP allocations drop per person, effectively giving up additional food stamp funding, according to a Reuters analysis of USDA data.
In August 2022, the agency announced cost-of-living adjustments effective Oct. 1, which increased the maximum monthly SNAP allocation for four people from $835 to $939 per month.
But many who visit food pantries still work or are on Social Security, making them ineligible for food stamps, like Michael Sukowski, a retired college administration worker whose SNAP benefits were cut due to his monthly pension from the state.
“Social security and a minimum pension of $153 a month. It doesn’t go far,” he said. “Half of it is to pay my rent. Then there are utilities.”
Hope Food Warehouse, which saw a 40 percent increase in visitors this year, and other food pantries are now buying more food at higher costs. That led to staples such as bread, meat and cheese.
“The pickings were pretty slim to say the least. But I’m grateful I got some,” Melt said as she loaded her groceries into a pushcart and got ready to board the bus home.
“Sometimes you have to come to a place like this. Sometimes you have nothing,” she said.