Inflation and spending cuts undermine Biden’s hunger policy

Inflation and spending cuts undermine Biden’s hunger policy


By Christopher and Jasper

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Grace Melt made her first visit to a nutritious food pantry on Chicago’s North Side in August. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she used food stamps issued by the federal government to buy groceries while she was out of work due to a knee injury.

But this summer, food stamps couldn’t keep up with the rising grocery store prices, so I sent her looking for a food donation for the first time.

“It’s definitely not enough,” she said of the benefits of food stamps. “It doesn’t last until the end of the month.” โ€œAnd now they have raised the pricesโ€ฆ so now you have to resort to coming here to the pantry to fill it up.โ€

Growing 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 pledges to end US hunger by 2030. Voters may punish his Democratic Party for inflation in the November midterm elections The second in a year, the economy was on top of voters’ concerns, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The Biden administration increased funding for food stamps nearly a year ago, but at the same time bought about half the amount of food the Trump administration bought in 2020, for food banks, schools and Native American reservations, according to data obtained from the USDA. Department of Agriculture (USDA) source.

Rising food prices are eroding the reach of food stamps, which average about $231 per person per month in 2022, according to USDA data, sending more people to food banks, which in turn receive less food from the government.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food at home rose to 13.5% year-over-year in August, the largest 12-month increase since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices have approached record levels globally since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a major grain producer.

Hunger rates also rose this summer to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic when the shutdown threw supply chains into chaos.

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โ€œThis is a problem that started to improve in 2021 and then quickly got worse,โ€ said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, the nation’s largest food bank network. “Most food banks in America see the lines grow with each passing week.”

Some advocates have argued spending more on food stamps or cash distributions, which gives people more options than food handouts and also benefits local businesses. The Trump administration’s lunch fund program has been criticized as ineffective and terminated by the Biden administration, which has also put money in families’ pockets through child tax credit payments until it expires last December.

Food shortages for families with children rose to 16.21% by July 11, when 1 in 6 families sometimes or often reported not having enough to eat, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the highest Since December 2020. Child hunger has fallen to an epidemic low of 9.49% in August 2021, due in part to child tax credit payments, according to the US Census Bureau.

“We just do”

Hunger subsided in 2021 after both the Trump and Biden administrations rolled out pandemic benefit payments to families to buy groceries, handed out billions of pounds of emergency food funds and sent monthly tax credit payments to children. [L1N2QG1LZ]

But with the loosening of restrictions on epidemics, the desire in Congress and some states to fund hunger prevention efforts has subsided.

In fiscal year 2020, the USDA spent $8.38 billion on approximately 4.29 billion pounds of food for food pantries, schools, and Indigenous reserves. But spending on food fell steadily by about 42% from 2020 to 2022, and is expected to reach $3.49 billion, the lowest level since 2018. The agency bought just 2.43 billion pounds of food last year, according to data obtained by Reuters.

The USDA sought to offset the decline in direct food purchases with additional benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), also known as food stamps, adding nearly $31 billion from 2020 to 2022. But this additional assistance has been limited by rising food costs. Countries have also allowed emergency pandemic declarations to expire and have strict criteria on who is eligible.

James Carvelli, who works in construction, said the refectory containing the nutritious hope keeps it nourished when work is slow. It doesn’t qualify for food stamps, and has noticed when stock runs out of some items.

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โ€œWe just do it โ€” they got what they got, and I appreciate that,โ€ he said.

The US Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will buy an additional $943 million in food through 2024, using Commodity Trust Corporation funds, usually intended for loans and payments to US farmers to offset disasters or lower commodity prices. The added money still makes the USDA prepare to spend less on food in the coming years than in 2020 and 2021, despite the ongoing need.

In response to a request for comment, the Department of Agriculture noted a significant cut in pandemic funding authorized by Congress, limiting the agency’s ability to spend on food banks and schools, many of which have canceled summer meal programs.

Hall, of Feeding America, lamented the scrapping of some additional food assistance measures from the $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law in August, including the investment in child nutrition and the permanent summer EBT program, a feature meant to bridge the gap. at school meals. Not available.

“There were things in the previous versions of this law… that were very important priorities to fight hunger, which unfortunately weren’t in the final version,” he said.

proper selection

This year, the USDA is on track to buy just over half the food it bought during the height of the pandemic, while donations from grocery stores and food distributors dwindled as companies tighten supply chains and reduce waste.

Great Chicago Food Depository, one of the nation’s largest food distributors for local food stores, expects this year to receive just over a third of the food it received from the USDA during fiscal year 2021 (July 2020 to June 2021).

As food supplies shrink, inflation is pushing more Americans toward food pantries for the first time. Chicago-area food stores saw an 18% increase in visitors in July, compared to the previous year, according to Chicago Food Inventory.

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In October of 2021, the USDA increased food stamp allocations by updating the Thrifty Foods Plan, the agency’s measure for a basket of household groceries. Food stamp benefits for fiscal 2022 are heading to $114.9 billion, down slightly from 2021 but 36.87% more than in 2020. Food stamps accounted for less than 2% of US government spending in 2022, according to US Treasury data.

But the 18 states that ended emergency declarations saw their monthly per-person SNAP benefits drop, effectively forgoing additional food stamp funding, according to a Reuters analysis of USDA data.

In August 2022, the agency announced a cost-of-living adjustment beginning October 1, increasing the maximum monthly SNAP benefit for a family of four from $835 to $939 a month.

But many who visit food pantries are still employed or under Social Security, making them ineligible for food stamps, like Michael Sukowski, a retired college administration employee whose SNAP benefits were cut because of his monthly state pension.

“Social Security and a small pension of $153 a month. It doesn’t go very far,” he said. “Half of that goes to pay my rent. Then there are the utilities.”

The Hope Nutritious dining room, which has seen a 40% increase in visitors this year, and other food pantries are now buying more food at higher costs. This has resulted in an inconsistent supply of basic foodstuffs such as bread, meat and cheese.

“The pickups were minimal, so to speak,” Milt said as she packed her food into a small cart as she prepared to take the bus home.

She said, “Sometimes you have to come to a place like this. Sometimes you have nothing.”

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