Jennifer Harper is all but certain her trips to local food banks and pantries are going to increase.
The Sioux City resident said she lives paycheck-to-paycheck and, once money is deducted for monthly bills, rarely has much left over to buy food.
For Harper, SNAP benefits, which are used by income-eligible individuals and families to buy food, help make up the difference.
At least 287,000 Iowa residents use SNAP (according to the Des Moines Register) and now a number of those residents, such as Harper, might be unable to make ends meet like before.
On Friday, Iowa’s expanded SNAP benefits came to an end which means a $95 monthly increase is gone. A KCCI article from March 27 pointed out:
that SNAP benefits were increased when the state declared an emergency at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Kim Reynolds ended the proclamation in February and the bill is finally coming due.
“Ending (the expansion) is making a lot of people still struggling to feed their families go hungry and put a strain on food banks that are already struggling to feed people,” Harper said.
Food insecurity and independence
Jake Wanderscheid, the executive director for the Food Bank of Siouxland, said it’s only a matter of time before more local people start utilizing food assistance organizations and programs.
“We’ll probably see a 10-15 percent increase by May and that depends on inflation and how the job market is going,” he said.
Community Action Agency of Siouxland Executive Director Jean Logan concurred: “I am positive that every food pantry in the area will see an uptick,” she said.
According to Logan, there was a decline in the number of people coming to Community Action for food when stimulus checks were being sent out and food assistance spending was increased.
People were able to go and purchase items on their own. Wanderscheid noted that the approach can really help maintain independence.
“It is my personal belief and the food bank’s belief that giving money directly to individuals, so that they can buy what they want, is an important step in alleviating food insecurity,” Wanderscheid said.
For an individual to qualify for SNAP, their gross monthly income needs to be less than $1,719 (per the Food Bank of Iowa) (per the Food Bank of Iowa).
For each additional person in a home, the amount goes up by about $600. Once people have the money, they’re only able to spend it on fresh produce, food, and groceries at pre-approved vendors and grocers.
“I use it for fruits and vegetables, frozen food, cereal, shelf food like pasta, and boxed dinners,” Harper said.
Threats of inflation
But even sticking closely to the essentials isn’t cheap these days.
As NPR reported: The United States Department of Agriculture has provided data showing the cost of all kinds of groceries has gone up this year.
The price of poultry, which Logan said is a cheap source of protein for low-income families, has gone up by about 12.5 percent.
People are paying 10.6 percent more for fruit than they were before, along with an added 7.8 percent for cereal and bakery products and 4.3 percent for fresh vegetables.
Wanderscheid said, heading into 2022, he hoped the Food Bank of Siouxland could get back into a normal cycle of purchasing and distributing. Maybe the number of people utilizing food assistance programs would taper off.
“But inflation and gas prices are putting pressure on families and we haven’t seen (the) decreases that we had hoped,” Wanderscheid said.
Inflation’s putting some pressure on the food bank too.
Wanderscheid said the Siouxland organization is only able to purchase about 80 percent of what it used to because of 20 percent increases in price for certain foods.
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To help offset certain inflationary pressures, as well as the end of expanded SNAP benefits, Wanderscheid said the Food Bank of Siouxland is adding new retail partners.
“We do want to be proactive so that we’re not caught empty-handed and we are increasing how much we’re purchasing in preparation for this event,” he said.
At the food pantry in Mapleton, Connie Swearingen, who’s helped fight food insecurity for 20 years, said the rise in inflation hasn’t stopped her from carrying staples such as frozen meat, canned vegetables, soup, and vegetable oil.
“I gotta get what I gotta get,” she said.
And donations have helped. According to Swearingen, the Mapleton Food Bank received $500 from several folks so it could maintain operations as things have gotten more expensive.
“Just keeping food on the shelves,” Swearingen said.