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Going hungry: Pandemic, inflation, supply issues prompt cry for help

Food pantries and soup kitchens, like Fishes and Loaves in Biloxi, MS seen here, reeled from the economic strain of COVID.
Posted at 9:00 AM, Jun 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-19 09:00:56-04

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.

As state leaders spend money on other things, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks this week issued an extraordinary plea for assistance, saying many rural foodbanks are rationing food and those in other parts of the state soon will be.

From the coronavirus pandemic to supply chain disruptions and inflation, to Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, everything that makes the economy difficult right now is especially acute for foodbanks and the people who use them. Their needs have dramatically increased as supplies have dwindled and the logistics of getting them what is available have become more complex and expensive.

“We desperately need more help,” the joint statement by the association of foodbanks said. “Many foodbanks are seeing spikes in need comparable to or higher than in the early weeks of the pandemic. Some of our foodbanks are rationing food, and more will need to start doing so without immediate action. Hundreds of loads of (U.S. Department of Agriculture) foods have been and are continuing to be canceled due to various factors, including no bidders, price increases, lack of product availability, and higher transportation costs.

Meanwhile, the state is sitting on an unprecedented pile of cash reserves — $7.4 billion — and the legislature has chosen to plow unrestricted money from a federal covid-relief program into… capital projects.

“We have been calling for an investment of (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars in our network for months to help us support our communities as they recover and rebuild,” the joint statement said. “Instead, the state of Ohio most recently announced that it had inserted $809 million from its remaining (American Rescue Plan Act) State Fiscal Recovery Funds into the capital budget, without any opportunity for public input, before recessing for the summer.”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the association of foodbanks, has praised Gov. Mike DeWine for earlier support — including by being the first governor to deploy National Guard troops to assist foodbanks during the pandemic. Now she and her organization are calling for $50 million immediately and $133 million longer-term.

“The good news is that this is not a problem of a lack of resources,” Hamler-Fugitt said in an email. “The state of Ohio and Governor DeWine have more than enough funding to help keep food on the shelves for Ohio’s foodbanks and the Ohioans they serve.”

In their joint statement, the foodbanks pointed out where that money can be found.

“Ohio has $1.9 billion remaining in ARPA State Fiscal Recovery Funds, hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) funds and billions of dollars in its rainy day fund,” it said.

Asked whether Gov. Mike DeWine supports the foodbanks’ request for resources, his press secretary, Dan Tierney, was non-committal.

“No final decision has been made on the request,” he said in an email. “The decision to use ARPA funds on the Capital budget reflects Governor DeWine’s strong and prudent preference that one time federal funds be used on one-time expenditures as opposed to ongoing expenses.”

Hamler-Fugitt listed some of the headwinds Ohio foodbanks face. Among them:

  • A 64% decline in USDA foods since 2021 and more than 250 canceled loads of food in the past 5 months
  • A 30% decline in donated foods from retailers and manufacturers
  • The cost to purchase food has risen from $0.42 per pound a year ago to an average of $1.04 per pound today.

At the same time, people with limited incomes are facing much higher prices at the grocery store and the gas pump.

“With the cost of everything from rent and utilities to childcare to food and fuel higher than ever, and with less federal help available, we are seeing more families with kids — including many that have not sought help throughout the pandemic until now — standing more often in our lines,” the joint statement said. “We are serving older adults and people living with disabilities more frequently as their limited, fixed incomes fail to keep up with the rising cost of their basic expenses.”