© Reuters. People receive free groceries at the food pantry that nourishes hope in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., August 29, 2022. REUTERS / Eric Cox
By Christopher Walljasper
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Grace Melt first visited Chicago’s North Side Nourishing Hope food store in August. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she used food stamps issued by the federal government. travel to buy groceries while off work due to a knee injury.
But this summer, food stamps couldn’t keep up with the soaring prices of groceries, prompting her to seek out a food donation for the first time.
“It certainly wasn’t enough. It never lasted until the end of the month,” she said of food stamp benefits. “And now they’ve raised the price… So now you have to resort to coming here to a grocery store, to fill.”
Rising hunger is a problem for US President Joe Biden as he prepares to host the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in more than 50 years and pledge to end hunger in America by Voters May Punish His Democrats According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, inflation in the midterm elections in November for a year, the economy has been on voters’ concerns. Top.
The Biden administration increased funding for food stamps nearly a year ago, but at the same time bought half as much food as the Trump administration did in 2020, for food banks, schools and reservations of indigenous peoples, according to data obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture. Department source (USDA).
Escalating food prices are eroding the reach of food stamps, averaging around $231 per person per month by 2022, according to USDA data, driving more people to the banks, according to USDA data. food, thus receiving less food from the government.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index (CPI) for household foods rose 13.5 percent year-on-year, the biggest increase in 12 months since 1979. Food prices has been near a record high globally since Russia invaded major grain producer Ukraine.
Hunger rates this summer have also risen to levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic as shutdowns plunged supply chains into chaos.
“This is an issue that starts to get better in 2021 and then quickly gets worse,” said Vince Hall, government relations manager for Feeding America, the nation’s largest food bank network. than”. “Most of the US food banks are seeing increased stock week by week.”
Some advocates argue for spending more on food stamps or cash distributions, which give people more options than handing out food and also benefit local businesses. . A Trump administration food box program that has been criticized as ineffective and terminated by the Biden administration, also puts money into the pockets of families through child tax credit payments. extended until they expired last December.
Food shortages for families with children rose to 16.21% on July 11, when nearly 1 in 6 families reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat, according to the Pulse Survey. around the U.S. Census Bureau household, the highest level since December 2020. Child hunger has fallen to a pandemic low of 9.49% in August 2021, in part. due to child tax credit payments, according to the US Census Bureau.
‘WE CAN ONLY DO IT’
Hunger eases in 2021 after both Trump and Biden administrations distribute pandemic welfare payments to families buying groceries, delivering billions of pounds of emergency food boxes and sending out credit payments monthly child tax. [L1N2QG1LZ]
But as pandemic restrictions ease, so does congressional and some states’ appetite to fund famine prevention efforts.
In fiscal year 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $8.38 billion on nearly 4.29 billion pounds of food for food stores, schools, and Indigenous reservations. But spending on food has steadily declined by nearly 42% from 2020 to 2022, poised to hit $3.49 billion, the lowest since 2018. The agency bought just 2.43 billion pounds of food in last year, according to data obtained by Reuters.
The USDA has been trying to offset the drop in out-of-food purchases with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Supplement (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, adding nearly $31 billion from 2020 through 2022. But that additional aid has been constrained by higher food costs, the states said expiring pandemic emergency declarations and strict criteria for who qualify.
James Carvelli, who works in construction, said the Nourishing Hope pantry keeps him fed when work slows down. He was ineligible for food stamps, and realized when the pantry ran out of some items.
“We just do – They have what they have, and I appreciate that,” he said.
The USDA recently announced it will purchase an additional $943 million in food through 2024, using the Commodity Credit Corporation funds, which are typically set aside for loans and payments to American farmers to offset disasters or commodity prices. short. The additional funds still make the USDA willing to spend less on food in the coming years than it does in 2020 and 2021, despite continued demand.
When consulted, the Department of Agriculture pointed out that sharp cuts to pandemic funding authorized by Congress have limited the agency’s ability to spend on food banks and schools, many of which canceled summer meal programs.
Hall, of Feeding America, lamented the cuts to several additional food assistance measures from the $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act signed into law in August, including investments in child nutrition. children and the permanent summer EBT program, a benefit designed to fill the gap when school meals are not available.
“There were things in previous versions of this bill… that were particularly important priorities for combating hunger, but unfortunately were not included in the final version,” he said.
This year, the USDA is on track to buy just over half of the food it bought during the height of the pandemic, while donations from grocers and food distributors have dwindled as businesses tighten supply chains and reduce waste.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository, one of the nation’s largest food distributors for local grocery stores, expects this year to receive just over a third of the food it receives from the USDA during the year. fiscal year 2021 (July 2020 to June 2021).
While food supplies shrink, inflation is pushing more Americans to grocery stores for the first time. Food stores in the Chicago area saw an 18 percent increase in visitors in July, compared with a year earlier, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
In October 2021, USDA increased its allocation of food stamps by updating the Thrifty Food Plan, the agency’s measure of a basket of household grocery items. Food stamp subsidies for fiscal year 2022 are on track to reach $114.9 billion, down slightly from 2021 but up 36.87% from 2020. Food stamps account for less than 2% of government spending. government by 2022, according to US Treasury Department data.
However, the 18 states that ended emergency declarations have reduced their monthly SNAP allocations per person, effectively forgoing supplemental food stamp funding, according to a Reuters analysis of USDA data .
In August 2022, the agency announced a cost-of-living adjustment starting October 1, increasing the maximum monthly SNAP allocation for a family of four from $835 to $939 a month.
But many people who visit grocery stores still work or are on social security, which excludes them from food stamps, like Michael Sukowski, a retired university administrator whose SNAP benefits were cut due to the monthly pension he receives from the state.
“Social Security and a small pension of $153 a month. It doesn’t go too far,” he said. “Half of that goes to pay my rent. Then there’s the utility bill.”
Nourishing Hope grocer, which has seen a 40% increase in visitors this year, and other grocers are now buying more food at a higher cost. That led to an inconsistent supply of staples like bread, meat and cheese.
“It’s very thin. But I’m grateful to have some,” Melt said as she packed her food into a trolley, preparing for the bus ride home.
“Sometimes you have to go to a place like this. Sometimes you have nothing,” she said.