Originally posted on www.detroitnews.com
Food donation organizations in Metro Detroit are dealing with increasing need after the end of hiked federal food benefits that started during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that grocery costs declined 0.2% month in April but were still up 7% over last year. Even with some prices coming down, the organizations say the need is increasing, especially after the end of extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in March.
February was the last month for the extra food assistance in place during the height of the pandemic. The benefits were at least $95 a month, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“The economic situation has not gotten much better for a lot of people,” said Chris Ivey, head of marketing and communications for Forgotten Harvest, a nonprofit food rescue organization based in Oak Park. “The rising costs of consumer packaged goods … as those costs increase, that makes it harder and harder for people to stretch their budgets.”
Then the reduction in SNAP benefits kicked in. Forgotten Harvest saw a 20% increase in need from March to April. Forgotten Harvest delivers 144,000 pounds of surplus food five days a week with the help of 200 local food pantry partners.
Detroit-based Gleaners Community Food Bank, which works with more than 400 soup kitchens, schools and agencies to deliver food to those in need, saw a 13.5% increase over the average of the previous five months. At community mobile outlets, the organization saw a 42% increase in the meal packages distributed over the average of the preceding five months, according to Kristin Sokul, Gleaners’ senior director of advancement.
“So need is not going away anytime soon and the challenge here is that we also are limited in our ability to distribute by how much food we bring in, and we were facing, at the beginning of this year, an unprecedented shortage in government-donated food,” Sokul said. “So as much food as we bring in, we’re getting out.”
In January and February, Gleaners received “a historical low” in the amount of government-donated food it received through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sokul said. In both months, the organization accepted about 300,000 pounds of food. By comparison, at the height of the pandemic, Gleaners was getting 2.4 million pounds a month. The reduction was in part the result of some programs instituted during the pandemic ending, Sokul said.
Gleaners is getting more pounds of food donated now, but the organization is “still monitoring carefully and making careful decisions to make sure that we can serve anyone who comes,” Sokul said. “The unfortunate cycle is that you get the most support when there’s the most need, which is great. But that support tends not to last long enough through the recovery.”
Food insecurity isn’t new. A University of Michigan researcher found in a survey study published in JAMA Pediatrics that more families are food insecure now than they were 20 years ago.
Noura Insolera, a research investigator at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, used data that follow the same families over time and found the rate of families reporting chronic food insecurity from 2015 to 2019 more than doubled compared with families surveyed between 1999 to 2003.
Insolera reviewed families surveyed in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, collecting data from three waves of surveys completed from 1999 to 2003 and again from 2015 to 2019.
She found about half of the 12.1% of families reporting food insecurity from 1999 to 2003 experienced at least one additional wave of food insecurity, according to the study. From 2015-19, 4.5% of all families reported chronic food insecurity with reports of food insecurity in all three survey sets.
Insolera plans to research why families are struggling more today but she expects it to be a result of decreasing federal benefits over time and wage growth not being strong enough to keep people out of poverty.
“The real wages have decreased and then prices are going up,” she said. “Even if you’re working full-time you just don’t have enough.”