North Carolina food pantries are seeing a sharp rise in demand due to a combination of delays in food stamp processing and cuts to state and federal benefits.
The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, for example, served about 6,000 people between January and March at its mobile markets, where it distributes produce and other fresh foods at area churches or in parking lots. Between April and June, the number of people at the mobile markets rose to 8,700, and officials said the number has hit 9,200 since July and is expected to continue rising.
“What we’re seeing is food banks are being asked to be the safety net of the safety net,” said Alan Briggs, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Food Banks.
State lawmakers cut unemployment benefits for 70,000 North Carolinians July 1st as part of a bill intended to repay the state’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. The bill also reduced unemployment benefits from $535 to $350 per week, and limited eligibility from 6 months to 13-20 weeks. Federal cuts to farm surplus commodities set aside for food banks and reductions in food stamp benefits by about $400 per year for a family of four have exacerbated the situation.
On top of that, problems with the state’s new, and somewhat ironically-named, computer program NC FAST have delayed food stamp benefits for hundreds of low-income families across the state for weeks at a time, prompting DSS offices to refer recipients to local food banks for help.
Via the Winston-Salem Journal:
Forsyth County DSS has partnered with several local agencies to refer families experiencing delays to local food pantries to receive 10-day supplies of food. DSS started handing out the official referrals – similar to vouchers – on Aug. 13. Joe Crocker, director of the Poor and Needy Division of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, said 334 referrals – encompassing 1,185 household members – had been handed out by the end of August.
Winston-Salem Journal – DSS workers continue to offer food bank referrals
Some food banks are having trouble keeping food on the shelves. WRAL reports that several have cut back hours to deal with shortages.
Via The Fay Observer:
“I’ve been here 15 years in November and I have never seen the food situation like this,” said Janice Voter, emergency assistance program coordinator with Fayetteville Urban Ministry.
At Urban Ministry on Friday, some shelves were bare. Voter said she has had to go out and buy items, such as canned corn, that are usually in ample supply.
As a reminder, here’s what Gov. McCrory had to say about cuts to unemployment benefits during his State of the State address:
“This will ensure our citizens’ unemployment safety net is secured and financially sound for future generations,” he said during his 45-minute televised address to a joint session of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. He got cheers when adding: “Borrowing from Washington with no idea or plan on how to pay for it ends with this administration right now. We aren’t going to do it any longer.”
Four days after the cuts took effect, the governor hosted a $5,000 per plate retreat for wealthy donors in Greensboro.
Winston-Salem Journal – Sexton: No end in sight for families trapped in food stamp computer glitch
WRAL – Problems continue to plague NC food stamps system
WECT – Food stamp issues impacting food banks
The Daily Herald – Contingency money set aside for Halifax DSS
Fay Observer – NC FAST computer system continues to cause food stamp processing delays