RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Over the last year, grocery store prices have shot up but now people who rely on public assistance could have a harder time paying for that food.
“Food insecurity is an issue that’s really in plain sight,” said Barbara Morales-Burke, CEO at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Like other food pantries, they’re bracing for increased needs as federal pandemic SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits disappear.
At the onset of the pandemic, the federal government funded emergency allotments for people enrolled in the Food and Nutrition Services program. That allotment gave people at least an extra $95 a month in food benefits.
After March 1, people enrolled in the program will receive benefits based on their household’s current eligibility, income, household size and other federal eligibility requirements.
“We anticipate there will be more people who are looking for food assistance and even for people who were already receiving food assistance, they’ll be needing more than they did before,” said Morales-Burke.
Numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show benefits per person per day will decrease from $8.12 to $5.45. For a family of four, that translates into a loss of more than $300 a month.
Governor Roy Copper recognized Tuesday the need to provide more help for families who can’t pay for school meals. Schools across the state have accrued thousands in unpaid lunch debt.
“We’re looking at appropriating some funds to help deal with it because we know nutrition for children is critical. [For] breakfast and lunch, many children rely on the school,” said Cooper.
Last fiscal year, Morales-Burke said Inter-Faith Food Shuttle distributed more than 9 million pounds of food. She expects to exceed that this year. For the last several weeks, they’ve been letting their more than 200 partners know about the upcoming change and the potential increase in needs they could see.
“Just last month in January, we served over 92,000 of our neighbors,” she said. “And that was a 12 percent increase over just the prior month.”
While she still doesn’t know the full impact of reduced food benefits, she knows they’ll need to fill a larger gap.
“In order to support the community, we need to turn to the community,” she said.
That means relying more heavily on community food drives, along with individual and corporate donors.
“We hope everyone will do more to help chip in,” Morales-Burke said.