Monday, October 05, 2020

Hunger roundup: food banks struggle; Trump letter in USDA food boxes draws protests; maximum SNAP benefits go up

Here's a trio of hunger-related items:

Food banks seeing record increases in demand

Food banks have seen record increases in demand since the coronavirus pandemic began, but donations and volunteers are down, leaving them struggling to meet the needs of food-insecure Americans.

"Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, projects a 6 billion to 8 billion meal shortfall in the next 12 months, a deficit that may be magnified with federal food assistance programs set to expire in the coming weeks and months," Laura Reiley reports for The Washington Post. "The Feeding America analysis estimates the total need for charitable food over the next year will reach 17 billion pounds, more than three times last year’s distribution."

Tens of millions of Americans have turned to food banks during the pandemic after losing their jobs or having their hours cut. "About 10 percent of American adults, 22.3 million, reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat within the past week, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey fielded between Aug. 19 and 31. That is up from 18 million before March 13."

Rural Americans, especially children and seniors, are more likely to be food insecure. According to Feeding America, 2.3 million rural households face hunger. Though 63% of U.S. counties are rural, 87% of counties with the highest rates of overall food insecurity are rural. The organ notes that rural residents may have a harder time accessing food banks because of distance and transportation troubles. 

Letter from Trump in some food boxes; to enlarge, click on it.
Trump letters in food boxes criticized

Some are accusing the Trump administration of attempting to make political hay of the food insecurity crisis in a way that violates the Hatch Act. Lawmakers and ethics watchdogs are protesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent requirement that federal contractors stuff signed letters from President Trump into food boxes for hungry families. 

The "$4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to those in need since May, with the aim of redirecting meat, dairy and produce that might normally go to restaurants and other food-service businesses," Helena Bottemiller Evich reports for Politico. "But organizations handing out the aid complain the program is now being used to bolster Trump’s image a month before a high-stakes election — and some even have refused to distribute them."

Some food banks are removing the letters because they don't want to be seen as endorsing a candidate and risk losing their nonprofit tax status, Reilley and Kim Bellware report for the Post.

Maximum SNAP benefits go up a little        

In related news about hunger, on Oct. 1, the Department of Agriculture increased the maximum benefit amounts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 5.3%. That translates to $34 more per month for a typical household of four receiving the maximum amount. Rural households are more likely to rely on SNAP benefits.

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