Food banks in many US states prepare for a surge in food aid demand as Republican governors prematurely end extended federal unemployment benefits, which will hit millions of American families.
Several states in the US have begun voluntarily ending federal extended unemployment benefits as Republican governors in at least 25 states have announced their intentions.
Missouri, Alaska, Iowa, and Mississippi were the first states to join on the 12th.
The cuts will end or cut benefits for around 3.9 million unemployed people.
Food insecurity among Americans has increased during the coronavirus pandemic and remains significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. According to data from the US Census Bureau, as of late May, more than 19.3 million adults said their households often did not get enough to eat in the past seven days, compared with 8.5 million adults who sometimes did not get enough to eat throughout 2019.
“We are still serving about one to one and a half million more meals each month than we did before Covid,” said Teresa Schryver, advocacy manager for the St. Louis Area Food Bank in Bridgeton, Missouri, which provides services to residents of Missouri and nearby Illinois. “We could see a spike again in July and August as we’re losing unemployment benefits here in Missouri so we could have 2 million meals again for a few months.”
The board also expects an increase in applications for help applying for snap benefits – often known as grocery stamps – when unemployment benefits expire. According to Schryver, it will likely take much longer for economic and other related crises to recover as the US public health crisis over coronavirus calms down due to high vaccination levels.
We hope it won’t take us 10 years to bring our food insecurity rates back to pre-pandemic levels, but that’s the kind of timeline we’re looking at from Teresa Schryver
“When the Great Recession hit in early 2008 and 2009, it had a big impact on the way we work and the people we serve. We saw a huge spike in food insecurity during that time and it took 10 years to get back up to pre-recession food insecurity, ”added Schryver. “We hope it won’t take ten years to bring our food insecurity rates back to pre-pandemic levels, but that’s the kind of timeline we’re looking at right now.”
Wendi Jones of Independence, Missouri, lost her job in a local school district in January and her family has relied on blackboards as she is still going through arbitration for unemployment benefits. Every time she has tried to contact the Missouri Department of Labor for an update, she is told there are still delays due to the pandemic and is upset that Missouri is cutting the federal extended benefits while Delays and backlogs that prevent them from receiving benefits have remained unresolved.
“Moving from a two-income family to one with no severance pay or unemployment has been so difficult,” said Jones, whose family is ineligible for Snap food aid based on her husband’s income. “We were able to search food supplies in our area, but the main pantry, the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, ended in late May. That was another hard blow because now I have to pay for milk, cheese and so on and it’s not cheap … I have no idea what we’re going to do. “
Florida food banks are also preparing for more needs.
“The cut in unemployment benefits will no doubt cause trouble for a large population here in central Florida. It’s impossible to tell how big the impact is, but it can’t be positive, ”said Dave Krepcho, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Orlando. The additional $ 300 in expanded federal unemployment benefits is due to expire early on June 26 in Florida.
Cars line up as volunteers hand out groceries in Orlando, Florida in August 2020. Photo: Getty Images
“We can see a relationship between adding or removing financial benefit to a household,” said Thomas Mantz, CEO and president of Feeding Tampa Bay, a variety of food service benefits to communities in the Tampa area. “So when we see stimulus checks running out we see fewer people in our ranks, when we see additional unemployment checks we see fewer people in our ranks. And vice versa, when these things stop, we see our numbers increase. “
He cited that, according to studies the organization conducted, about 68% of people who showed up in food bank lines at the start of the coronavirus pandemic had never been in one before.
Currently, Mantz found that their demand is about 35% higher than pre-pandemic levels, where many food aid organizations have already struggled to keep up with funds, resources and food at this level. The pandemic has put a significant strain on food banks to keep up with increased demands while implementing coronavirus safety protocols, managing supply chain issues, and responding to the broad impact of the pandemic on individuals and families.
In Texas, all federal extended unemployment benefits end prematurely on June 26, leaving more than 1.3 million unemployed with unemployment benefits canceled or reduced.
Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, based in Austin, Texas, said the pandemic has hit low-income Americans hardest economically, and demand is still heightened to help those people who are struggling to recover, especially those who are struggling to recover who already struggled financially before the pandemic. She expects at least a short-term spike in demand when federal unemployment benefits ends in Texas later this month.
“We assume that we will see an increase, at least in the short term, when unemployment benefits run out. So let’s prepare for it, “said Cole. “People who initially had lower incomes tend to be hit harder by natural and economic crises, and it can take much longer to come back as individuals and the communities in which they live.”