Rent or Food? No one should have to choose (updated 5/2/23)

May 2, 2023

Many economists believe a recession is coming. If one arrives, it will be a painful conclusion to several years of record-setting inflation that has caused stress on people everywhere, including half of Minnesota households.  

If a recession does not arrive, many families will continue to struggle because the current economy remains highly unstable. Consider the following:

  • Credit card debt is at an all-time high of nearly $1 trillion, as families borrow money just to cover the cost of food, fuel and housing.
  • Gas prices are trending upward again, with some experts predicting prices will hit $4 per gallon by summer.  
  • Food prices are predicted to increase another 6.5 percent in 2023, adding hundreds of dollars to monthly grocery bills. One grocery shopper put food inflation into perspective by showing how the exact same foods she bought for $10 in 2020 now cost $15 in 2023. 
  • The cost for homes and apartments is sky-high, with about 75,000 Minnesota households behind on their rent as of April 2023. 
  •  Used car prices are back on the rise after peaking last year. The average cost of a used vehicle is now $26,500 – about $10,000 more than before the pandemic.   

Even worse: At the same time that these expenses have risen, wage growth has not kept pace. 

“Families are paying thousands more per year just to cover the basics, while having less money to spend,” said Lt. Col. Dan Jennings, leader of The Salvation Army Northern Division. “Ultimately, a dollar today buys only 85 cents of what it did a few years ago. These circumstances are crushing families on the bubble.”

Rent or Food?

For many families, the bubble has already burst. They are being forced to make harrowing choices: Pay for rent, or food? Medications, or utility bills? Car payment, or car repairs?

George from St. Paul is familiar with these kinds of choices. He is a retired homebuilder who lives on a fixed income of social security benefits and modest retirement savings. Money has been tight ever since he retired four years ago.

“Living on a fixed income is not easy,” admitted George, who is recently engaged. “If it weren’t for my fiancé and I living together, we wouldn’t be able to make it.”

Lately, the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul has been George’s lifeline. He pays a visit most Fridays to pick up a box of bread, fresh produce, meat, and other foods. 

“It’s a blessing,” George said. “Thank you to the people who are donating to The Salvation Army and helping people like me.”

George is one of thousands of people who receive food at the West 7th Salvation Army, one of 22 food shelves and 13 hot meal programs operated by The Salvation Army in Minnesota. In 2022 alone, this location gave away more than 1 million pounds of food. 

“That’s triple the amount since COVID-19,” said Major Steve Kounthapanya, leader of the West 7th Salvation Army. “We are serving more now than any other time.”

Kounthapanya’s statement is consistent with what food shelves are experiencing throughout Minnesota. In 2022, Minnesotans made a record-setting 5.5 million visits to food shelves. That’s nearly 2 million more visits than in 2021 and 1.7 million more than 2020. 

Compounding this problem is the “hunger cliff” that many Minnesotans have fallen off after food-stamp benefits were slashed across the country in March.  

Now is the time to give

The Salvation Army is on high alert as financial conditions worsen, the economy shrinks, and families worry about the future.   

With your donations, The Salvation Army can provide relief. We are the largest nongovernmental provider of social services in Minnesota and North Dakota, offering assistance with groceries, rent, utilities, minor car repairs, prescription medications, and other financial emergencies.

Your gifts have allowed The Salvation Army Northern Division to provide these and other critical services at unprecedented levels ever since the pandemic began.  

“We expect that even more families will need our help as the threat of recession looms,” Jennings said. “With the support of our donors, The Salvation Army can show families in need that they are loved, cared for, and not alone. We stand vigilant, ready to serve all who come to us in need.”

Are you Down for the Challenge? You can support The Salvation Army’s efforts to fight homelessness by donating to or participating in our Down for the Challenge urban rappelling event with the Minnesota Vikings. This adrenaline-pumping event takes place July 28-29 at the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel during Vikings training camp.

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