By Mary Lou Byrd — November 17, 2014
Underemployed seek meals from food banks
Food banks across the country are reporting shortages as the holidays approach and the underemployed and the long-term unemployed are utilizing them to stave off hunger.
Food bank lines continue to swell despite claims by the federal government that the economy is improving and increased spending on food stamps: Forty-six millionAmericans, or one in five, are now receiving food stamps.
“The need continues to be strong. Even though the state level unemployment percent is low, this does not address the underemployed and long-term unemployed,” said Bruce Wilson, director of operations for the New Hampshire Food Bank.
NHFB has already distributed more food this year than last.
“We have been fortunate to have adequate inventory available to serve our 400 member agencies (soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, boys and girls clubs, seniors, and veterans). This Thanksgiving season we will be distributing over 19,000 turkeys through our agencies. This, too, is an increase from last year,” said Wilson.
According to Wilson, 71 percent of those served by NHFB are underemployed. Other client statistics provided by the organization show only five percent of its users are homeless.
A larger percentage of its clients cannot make ends meet. Sixty-eight percent must choose between food and utilities; 64 percent must choose between food and medical care; and 53 percent choose between food and rent. Thirty percent of its clients are children under the age of 18.
Food banks across the country are seeing an increase in need.
Food pantries in all five boroughs of New York are dealing with “crushing” numbers of New Yorkers seeking food, wrote Assembly Member-Elect Latoya Joyner (D., 77th District), in an op-ed published last week.
“Food pantries across the five boroughs are having trouble keeping their shelves stocked with nutritious foods. Meanwhile, the economic situation for many in New York City, especially families, has not improved and food lines just continue to grow,” Joyner wrote. One food pantry executive she quoted said the number of people needing food is “crushing.”
Food Banks in Virginia, Ohio, Alaska, and Texas report similar trends. The CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, who did not respond to a request for comment, told the local media the hungry are not just the unemployed, but also the underemployed.
“Wages aren’t up with what’s going on out there, so even though people are getting some jobs back, underemployment is incredible,” Joanne Badson told 10 on Your Side.
Idaho has also witnessed an increase in families who are coming to the food bank for meals. Many who the food bank serves are working families.
Lee Kimball, director of the food bank of the Amador Tuolumne Community Action Agency in California, said their numbers have increased this year. By comparison, she said the number her food bank served in their California county doubled when the recession hit.
Currently the food bank serves between 8,000 and 11,000 people a month of the total 56,000 residents.
Water restrictions in California and the increase in residents’ water bills has taken its toll on Amador and Tuolumne counties.
“The water situation has impacted the increase, I believe,” said Kimball. She explained that those who do not have any discretionary funds have been hit with higher water bills, and it has impacted the residents’ ability to put food on their table.
Kimball said some residents don’t even have $5 in discretionary funds to spare, and even a minor increase in bills “could make all the difference.”
The ATCAA asks every person who visits the food bank to also help out. “I believe you never do for someone what someone can do for himself,” Kimball said.
“Hunger is a symptom of poverty and the real conversation is poverty. We can start the conversation about poverty,” said Kimball, who believes hunger in America could be stamped out in one generation.
“The data also suggest that the recovery from the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009 has been slow to reach people in the direst economic circumstances. Although many clients who visit programs in the Feeding America network are working towards an education and/or searching for work if they are not already employed, they still experience challenges with food security, underemployment, limited income, and poor health,” the study stated.
A failure by the Senate to pass a food donation tax deduction passed by the House this summer could severely impact food donations, according to Feeding America. Without the food donation tax deduction, millions of pounds of food will be lost.
“Passage of this legislation will make it easier for farmers, retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers to donate more food,” Wilson said. “With the uncertainty surrounding food donation tax deductions, donors will often send surplus food to landfills. Current tax incentives do not reflect the changing food industry because increases in operational efficiencies mean that there is now less food available for donation.”
President Barack Obama has indicated he would veto the food donation tax deduction if the Senate passes it.