Are we approaching a hunger cliff?
By Lt. Col. Dan Jennings, Commander of The Salvation Army Northern Division
Recent news reports, including TwinCities.com’s "Food organizations in Minnesota and North Dakota brace for end of E-SNAP food benefits,” (2/26/23), are warning that food-stamp benefits are being slashed in 32 states, including Minnesota. Some are referring to it as a “hunger cliff,” because many families who were just getting by during the pandemic and have more recently been battling the effects of inflation, will also be facing the loss of food-stamp support.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits enacted by the federal government to provide relief for families who were struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic ends this month in 32 states, including Minnesota. Estimates are that the average person would receive $82 a month less, and a family of four would receive as much as $328 less.
The timing for this couldn’t be worse. According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, the average Minnesota household is spending $818 more per month as a result of inflation.
Not surprisingly, demand for food shelf services in Minnesota set a record in 2022. There were 5.5 million visits to food shelves, up almost 2 million visits from 2021. One research group reports that half of these visits are people who have never visited a food shelf before. The combination of dwindling pandemic benefits and escalating inflation have in a sense created a perfect storm of food insecurity for a new generation of Minnesotans.
The Salvation Army is also seeing a 30 to 50 percent increase in demand for services nationwide. When two-thirds of Americans report they live paycheck to paycheck, they ultimately are not able to absorb the higher cost of goods that inflation has caused. In Minnesota alone, there are 68,000 households who are behind on their rent, at risk of eviction. These are families who are having to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent.
So, are we in fact approaching a “hunger cliff”? Perhaps not. March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, which is an opportunity for all Minnesotans to get involved and donate food to restock the shelves of their local food shelf. The Salvation Army, which operates nine food shelves in the Twin Cities’ metro area, will be participating with its annual "2 Million Pounds" food drive all month long, with dozens of drop off locations. Visit 2MillionPounds.org for information.
The Legislature is also looking back on an $18 billion surplus and should certainly consider a significant investment in support of food shelf funding, at least until food prices are brought under control. A $5 million stop-gap bill now sits on Governor Walz’s desk for signing, but compared to the $1.3 billion program that just ended, it ultimately will have little impact.
We all thought that the demand for food shelf services at the peak of the pandemic was the worst we had ever seen—until now. A combined effort from all entities—private, public, and individual—is needed to keep all our state’s food shelves stocked and serving until the need subsides.
Watch this important video message from Lt. Col. Dan Jennings, Commander of The Salvation Army Northern Division.