SFNM My View: Food banks serve crucial role in shutdowns

Food banks serve crucial role in shutdowns

Feb 27, 2024

Two recent events — the 2018 government shutdown and the pandemic — demonstrated how food banks are now an essential component in the ongoing economic support structure for both working Americans and a vital safety net for Americans suffering temporary economic dislocation.

In recent years, the number of people persistently needing and seeking food assistance has grown dramatically. News stories at the start of the pandemic documented the explosion in the number of food-insecure people. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, food insecurity increased again from 2021 to 2022. Those numbers have not receded since the emergency was declared over, partly because of significant increases in food prices over the past two years.

As volunteers who distributed groceries before the pandemic, we saw a shift in the population picking up groceries and the regularity with which they did so. During the pandemic, low-wage earners lost their jobs. Because their incomes were insufficient to save for rainy days, they could not pay for life essentials like food.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noted, “If they lost their main source of income, 37 percent of households could not cover expenses for longer than one month by using all sources, including savings, selling assets, borrowing, or seeking help from friends or family.”

As the amount and cost of food that food banks must obtain and distribute now multiplies, the charitable relief network has been pushed to the limit of what it can do with donated food and what it can purchase with charitable donations.

Recent federal government shutdowns highlight another — and surprising — group of Americans who have counted on charitable relief to avoid hunger.

During shutdowns, food banks not only serve those who regularly rely upon them, but also tens of thousands of lowest-paid government employees and contractors whose families live paycheck-to-paycheck and could not save for emergencies.

Any major social or economic hiccup significantly increasing the need for food could outstrip the remaining capacity of the food banks to obtain and distribute the food needed. Today, the threat of another federal government shutdown is real, ominous, and near-term — March. This looming crisis threatens food banks.

If tens of thousands of low-income federal employees and contractors lose paychecks because of a shutdown, and a shutdown halts both direct financial assistance programs that help poor Americans to buy food and the availability of federal-government-provided commodities distributed to food-insecure people, suddenly scores of millions of Americans will face the specter of hunger.

Many will turn to food banks. Such a tsunami will in many cases “break the bank” in numerous locations. The nonprofit network will run out of food or will lack the ability to deliver it sufficiently to all who need it.

In the short term, increased financial support to food banks from individuals, foundations and governments is essential.

But food banks have never been, and do not have the ability to become, the long-term solution to all hunger in our nation.

The real answer is an economic system in which governments ensure that workers receive income sufficient to meet their families’ essential expenses, including food.

We as a community need to find solutions for community members working full-time who cannot afford life’s necessities for their families and are one or two paychecks away from financial calamity when mega-events like pandemics and federal shutdowns occur.

Tracey Enright and Scott Bunton are members of The Food Depot’s public policy advocacy committee.

Source: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/food-banks-serve-crucial-role-in-shutdowns/article_dc3588b0-d526-11ee-ae4d-f7aaedacc27a.html