Hunger in America is on the rise due to factors like inflation, food supply chain delays and the impending end of pandemic-era social safety net programs. In response, families have turned to food banks, which unfortunately has pushed programs nationwide to ration supplies and reduce services.
Hoping to stave off the impact of the growing shortage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has committed to providing close to $2 billion in funding to food banks and school meal programs for purchasing American-grown foods.
Families across the U.S. are struggling to afford their basic needs. According to The Washington Post, recent census data shows that 24.5 million Americans report sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the week between July 27 and August 8. That's a significant increase from last December and the previous year, which were 21 million and 18 million respectively.
To further illustrate the issue, the latest Feeding America survey reveals that 40% of member food banks experienced an increase from June to July of people served. Additionally, even with unemployment low, the need for food hasn't reduced in months. Of the $2 billion, 1.5 will be donated to food banks.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shares the department's findings, "In talking to food banks and pantries across the country, here's what we hear. Demand is high, in terms of their need, costs have increased, labor — whether paid or volunteer — is a struggle and donations have tapered off because people think the pandemic is in the rearview mirror."
The remaining $500 million is to be donated to schools for purchasing food for lunch and breakfast programs. Students were given free school meals without having to apply during the pandemic. That was due to the emergency climate, which saw the federal government giving more money to school nutrition programs. Unfortunately, that emergency service has ended.
As mentioned, there are numerous causes behind the growing food shortage. Jason Jakubowski, Chief Executive of Connecticut Foodshare in Wallingford, Connecticut says food bank donations are down, supplies are more expensive and need has increased.
"Anecdotally, what we hear is it’s largely due to inflation – that's the biggest concern people have. We do know that spending $16 million a year in food purchases is unsustainable," Jakubowski said.
In pre-pandemic times, around 70% of the food distribution was donated. Food donations are currently at 55% and food banks are using cash reserves more heavily which has impacted operating costs. Adding to the challenges are rising food prices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there's been an 11.4 percent price increase over the past year.
The household staple peanut butter perfectly illustrates the rising food cost. Every few weeks, Connecticut Foodshare runs through a trailer-load of peanut butter. 34,560 households receive a jar each and today, it costs $7,000 more for a trailer-load than it did 16 months ago.
Despite the increase, people need to eat in order to survive. Vilsack states that each state will allocate the funds received to schools based on student enrollment, with a set minimum per district, ensuring small schools aren't left behind.
At the end of the calendar year, schools will be able to use the money they receive to place orders and deliveries to food banks will occur throughout fiscal years 2023 and 2024.
When millions are in need, the best course of action is always complicated and requires thorough consideration. Issues like these are rarely solved completely, but rather on-going and shift as the state of need changes. For more information on USDA's $2 billion funding efforts read here.