In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our neighbors in North Central Indiana are struggling against unprecedented hardships, including hunger.
With schools closed, thousands of local children are missing out on school meals — one of few sources of nutrition for far too many kids. Businesses are shutting down and laying off workers, leaving families without steady paychecks needed to afford groceries.
Food Finders Food Bank is working diligently to help families in need keep food on the table. However, we cannot do this work alone. The only way to ensure no one goes hungry during, and after, the coronavirus crisis is through both a strong charitable sector and more government investment in our federal nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
According to a recent survey of the Feeding America network, every single one of the 200 member food banks reported a significant increase in need for food assistance in their communities, with an average 60 percent increase in demand. While food banks like Food Finders are doing what we do best — feeding people — we are struggling to help the hundreds of people who are seeking food assistance right now, including families who are seeking help for the first time.
A recent survey from Food Finders Food Bank clients reports that nearly 30 percent of the people we are serving have never asked for food assistance before. More individuals, families, children, seniors and veterans are struggling with hunger in our community.
We cannot expect food banks to completely shoulder the task of feeding our nation during one of its greatest times of need. Strengthening our federal nutrition programs, expanding SNAP benefits, would be a step in the right direction.
Congress should increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent — similar to what was done following the Great Recession — so we can help feed families who are already and newly struggling against hunger. SNAP is proven to help safeguard the food security of people in times of need and its strength is unparalleled. In fact, for every meal food banks provide, SNAP provides nine.
Unemployment claims continue to surge, for the week ending April 11th initial claims were up 11,547% over the same week last year. It seems likely that an economic downturn will follow the end of our present public health emergency. SNAP is not only an anti-hunger tool: It is also a critical economic multiplier. When low-income families receive SNAP benefits to purchase groceries, those dollars are circulated within and stimulate local economies. Increasing SNAP benefits will help make the program even more responsive to any economic downswing that is sure to come. To that point, the Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the most cost-effective ways to boost economic growth and create jobs in a weak economy.
In the midst of heightened hunger and impending economic downturn, strengthening SNAP is a no-brainer. Congress and the administration have already passed legislation that includes some much-needed support. However, they need to do more to help our neighbors in need in North Central Indiana. As Food Finders Food Bank continues to struggle to meet the huge need for emergency food assistance, we call on our lawmakers to swiftly increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent in any upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation for the duration of the economic downturn. As our communities continue to weather extraordinary circumstances, we need extraordinary help. More than ever, this means increasing SNAP benefits for people facing hunger.
Katy O’Malley Bunder is president/CEO of Food Finders Food Bank, Inc., based in Lafayette.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Food Finders plea: Increase benefits to fight hunger in next coronavirus stimulus bill