Food insecurity

Record-Eagle reporter and Report for America corps member William T. Perkins wrote about food insecurity in a report for the front page of the Thanksgiving Day edition.

The information his story conveyed was disquieting.

Here’s the key take-away: Every community is facing a reckoning — and it’s coming soon — as far as all the funds that have been allocated to help people in the last three years.

The pandemic is over. And that, ironically, is bad news when it comes to food insecurity and local families.

The cessation of those funds alone is cause for consternation, but add in the impact of high inflation and it’s a perfect storm. Charitable organizations that serve children and families in the community were already noticing the need beginning to escalate months ago.

Father Fred Foundation Executive Director Candice Hamel wrote that they have met hundreds of people who have never before had to ask for help.

“The majority shared with us that their budgets are so tight, they’ve had to make tough decisions about what to pay now, and what to skip for a later time. Unexpected car repairs or medical bills are enough to send a household into a financial tailspin,” she wrote for their fall 2022 newsletter.

Visits to their food pantry have increased by 85%, she said.

An estimated 1.15 million people in Michigan have hunger needs, Perkins reported. According to statistics from the advocacy group Feed America, there are nearly 18,000 people facing those needs in the four counties of Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Kalkaska.

But here’s the rub: For the past couple of years, COVID-related federal and state assistance programs provided a stopgap. So many efforts were made during the pandemic to relieve need that food insecurity actually decreased from pre-pandemic levels — with those rates sometimes being cut in half. Demand at food pantries also fell by as much as 20 percent, sources told Perkins.

With the state’s expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and the child tax credit, Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan was able to distribute more food during that time than ever before, said Taylor Moore, its director.

The expanded benefits also allowed pantries to invest in higher quality, local items, and gave consumers more options, Moore said.

So here’s the obvious question: Why go backward? Does that funding have to cease?

It should be a priority for legislators during their lame-duck session in Lansing to address the issue of food insecurity in Michigan.

It’s good news to hear that the Food Bank Council was recently awarded a grant to conduct the state’s first-ever hunger study, which will focus on the individuals who need help and where they live.

But there is no magic bullet and no one action in the next few months can address the magnitude of what each community will be losing — and soon.

Swift and definitive action by the Legislature, grants to fill in the blanks, along with more people volunteering their time to help at organizations such as United Way, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Father Fred Foundation and Food Rescue, will surely provide a stopgap. The need is great.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle


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