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Higher food costs and rising gas prices could prove to be damaging to the nation’s food banks and their ability to provide adequate emergency food to the nearly 49 million Americans who are currently living at risk of hunger, Feeding America, the network of the nation’s largest food banks announced.
Although recent reports indicate that the economy is beginning to improve and that the unemployment rate is also beginning to shrink, Feeding America’s food banks continue to face significant struggles as America recovers from the worst economic recession in decades.
The Feeding America network of more than 200 food banks and 61,000 local partners are feeding 37 million Americans a year, including nearly 14 million children and 3 million seniors. But with rising operating costs and decreasing supply, a number of factors are contributing to a “perfect storm” of challenges that threaten to leave food banks unable to meet the need in their communities.
Gas prices increased 26% in 2011, adding tremendous costs to transporting food. Increased fuel costs particularly affect rural areas, where populations are less dense. Many food banks support emergency feeding across a vast service area.
Food inflation is also hitting food banks hard. Grocery prices increased an average rate of 6% in the last half of 2011, and food banks have been hard pressed to make up the difference.
Feeding America Food banks have seen significant increases in the price of household staples like milk, which increased in price by nine percent in 2011, and peanut butter, which costs 38% more now than it did a year ago. Rising food prices also mean that healthy, nutritious food becomes further out of reach for many of the clients served by Feeding America, further increasing their reliance on food banks
“A major concern for us is the significant decline in USDA commodities provided to our food banks.
These commodities generally account for about a quarter of the 3 billion pounds of food our food banks distribute each year. This is highly-valued, nutritious food – fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy product. We saw a reduction of about 30 percent last year, and are already experiencing more reductions this year,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.
Donations of food from food manufacturers also declined by about 15% last year, due to increased manufacturing efficiencies.
“We are also deeply concerned about the potential for cuts to Federal hunger-relief programs like SNAP (food stamps) as Congress looks for ways to reduce the deficit. More than 40 million Americans, including many of our clients, rely on SNAP. We understand that there must be reductions in government spending, but cutting anti-hunger programs is penny-wise and a pound foolish,” Escarra said.
“Federal nutrition programs meet an urgent and immediate need. They also reap long term benefits by eliminating the health, educational, and workforce productivity costs associated with hunger and poor nutrition,” Escarra said. “Feeding America urges Congress to maintain robust funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, Commodity Supplemental Nutrition Program and SNAP.”