Every other Tuesday morning I volunteer at the local food bank. Rain or shine, our small team does our best to assist community members who ask for help.
People who come to us are from all walks of life. They are your neighbors, your coworkers and your family members, not that you’d likely know it. Everyone is grateful to get help, even if they are embarrassed to have to ask.
Lately, more of our members are expressing anxieties about securing food. As emergency SNAP benefits come to an end, some families could lose as much as several hundred dollars in food assistance per month. Food pantries like ours are bracing for impact, but filling the gap will be tough — especially with inflation still bearing down.
Anyone who has been to the grocery store lately knows what I’m talking about: food prices are out of control. Between December and January, the Consumer Price Index for food increased another 0.8%, marking a total increase of 11.3% since the January prior.
A review of grocery items reveals why: Egg prices are up more than 70% since last year, with another 38% increase this year expected. Meats are set to rise by another 4.7%, dairy by 7.2%, vegetables 9.9%, fats and oils by 16.7% and cereal products by 12.8%.
Few products are expected to decline.
These skyrocketing prices make it all the more wrong that Congress is ending the emergency SNAP assistance when families still need it most. Sure, the SNAP program has long been underfunded, and assistance will technically be more than pre-pandemic levels. But the new rates will be astonishingly low given inflation, with the average person getting an estimated $195 per month and a family of four averaging $684 per month for the rest of the year.
Could you eat well on this budget?
These cuts will have immense impacts in Colorado. A third of Coloradans are already food insecure, and such cuts will only force more to skip meals or go to bed hungry. This is especially true for those who use SNAP most: seniors, the disabled and children.
We’re already seeing more families with kids who need help. In addition to the usual food boxes we prep, I now pack extra kid-friendly bags on the side. Thanks to our donors, we’re usually able to add chocolate milk, vitamin water, granola bars and on a good day, extra fresh fruits, protein and loaves of bread. The additional calories are especially important for teenagers going through a growth spurt.
But for all the amazing things about food banks, our current efforts are unlikely to be enough as SNAP cuts hit hard. Besides, it’s best for people to have the independence to buy their own food, which SNAP helps them do.
If you’ve never experienced food insecurity, it’s tough to appreciate how humbling it is to not to be able to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, or to know for certain where your next meal will come from. I assure you, food insecurity makes everything in life more difficult from work to school to relationships.
Setting aside the chronic worry and shame people experience from needing help with food, accessing food banks is generally tougher than accessing grocery stores. The hours of operation and proximity are usually less convenient, which takes more time, energy and money. There’s also no guarantee for dietary needs with donation-based foods, and meal planning is next to impossible as you never know what or how much you’ll be able to get.
There are also nutrition concerns, such as having to rely more on canned goods and packaged foods rather than fresh ingredients, a problem that only further perpetuates health inequities. Not to mention you can forget about satisfying cravings or marking special occasions with birthday cakes, chocolate, ice cream, juice, wine, beer, sports bars, salads, cheese, oils, spices or almost any other luxury item that too many of us take for granted.
Volunteering at food banks has long changed my understanding of what it’s like to experience food insecurity, and it’s times like these that I wish more people shared this perspective. While the rare person might take advantage of SNAP, in my experience, most people who ask for help are doing everything they can just to get by.
It’s for these reasons and more that I believe cutting back SNAP assistance now is wrong; and if you disagree, I challenge you to eat on only $195 per month in groceries and at food pantries for the remainder of the year. I think you’ll quickly learn it’s not the picnic some seem to think.
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