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Rhode Island Community Food Bank Releases 2014 Status Report on Hunger
The Rhode Island Community Food Bank released its 2014 Status Report on Hunger today, which finds that one in seven Rhode Island households cannot afford adequate food. Hunger continues at levels virtually unchanged from the all-time high experienced during the recession. The rate of food insecurity in Rhode Island is now 14.4 percent, down from 14.7 percent.
“The economic recovery taking place in Rhode Island has not reached thousands of low-income families who rely on food programs to avoid hunger,” says Andrew Schiff, Chief Executive Officer of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “A large portion of our population still doesn’t have reliable access to affordable, healthy food to feed their families. Poor nutrition continues to impair the health of our children and elderly.”
Families Make Difficult Choices
The recent Hunger in America study by Feeding America, the national network of food banks, found that most people receiving food assistance from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s network of agencies are living at or below the federal poverty level of $19,500 for a family of three. “This forces unthinkable trade-offs between food and other essentials of life,” said Schiff.
Over the course of a year:
70 percent had to choose between paying for utilities or buying food.
68 percent had to choose between paying for medicine or buying food.
67 percent had to choose between paying for transportation or buying food.
62 percent had to choose between paying for housing or buying food.
The Rhode Island Community Food Bank now serves 63,000 people every month through its statewide network of food pantries. In 2007, the same number of agencies served 33,000 people per month. One in three served is a child under the age of 18, and one in five is a senior 60 years of age or older. The Hunger in America study found that 22 percent of those served at the Food Bank’s member agencies have a family member in poor health.
In addition to providing nutritious food for distribution to hungry families, the Food Bank also has several initiatives aimed at improving the health and nutrition of children and senior adults.
Food Bank Focuses on Fresh, Healthy Food
Last year, the Food Bank distributed nearly 10 million pounds of food, including more than 2 million pounds of fresh produce, to its 169 member agencies. Currently, 89 percent of the food distributed is highly nutritious “core” food that can be used to make a healthy meal for a family.
The continued high demand for food assistance makes it challenging for the Food Bank to acquire enough healthy food to stock food pantries across the state. The quantity of donated food has dropped in recent years due in large part to improved inventory and quality control in the food industry.
“This greater efficiency in the food industry is good for consumers, but it also means there is significantly less surplus food available for donation,” said Schiff. “The Food Bank must now purchase more than 3 million pounds of food per year to meet the need.”
Access to Federal Nutrition Programs Is Critical
Federal nutrition programs are an essential resource for low-income families struggling to feed their families. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) now assists more than 176,000 people in Rhode Island, a significant increase from 2007, when 76,000 people were served. However, many families find that SNAP benefits run out before the end of the month. This is when they turn to food pantries to fill the gap.
The Rhode Island General Assembly failed to allocate state funds for the SNAP Outreach Project at the University of Rhode Island in 2014. The Project identifies eligible families and helps them apply for SNAP.
“With state funding eliminated, Rhode Islanders eligible for SNAP will have more difficulty accessing this federally funded program in the future,” said Schiff.
Child Nutrition Programs Have Room to Grow
More children are now receiving school breakfast in Rhode Island through the federal School Breakfast Program. However, of the 50,480 students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, fewer than half receive school breakfast, and less than 8,000 receive summer meals provided through the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.
“Participation in the school breakfast program increases when breakfast is served in the classroom at the start of the day, instead of before the school day begins,” said Schiff. “We could also increase participation by adopting a new federal option called “Community Eligibility,” which allows schools in high-poverty areas to serve meals to all students at no charge, eliminating the need for paper applications.
Food Bank Calls for Action
“We urge Rhode Islanders to advocate at the state and national level to prevent hunger and safeguard the health and well-being of thousands of Rhode Island families,” said Schiff. The following steps are recommended:
Increase state funding to the Food Bank for the purchase of nutritious food.
Raise SNAP benefits to reflect the real cost of food and ensure that low-income families have enough to eat through the entire month.
Restore state funding for the SNAP Outreach Project to help eligible Rhode Islanders receive these critical food benefits.
Adopt the Community Eligibility option to offer free school meals to all students in high-poverty areas.
Boost school breakfast participation in low-income communities by serving breakfast in the classroom as a regular part of the school day.