Skip to content

Food Bank Call on Congress to Address Food Insecurity in Next Coronavirus Relief Legislation

Food Bank Call on Congress to Address Food Insecurity in Next Coronavirus Relief Legislation

Good Shepherd Food Bank calls on Congress for Action

As Congress returns to Washington DC this week, Good Shepherd Food Bank urges our Members of Congress to include critical policies to address food insecurity in the next Coronavirus Relief legislation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm of increased need, decreased food donations, and significant disruptions to food banks’ operating model.” stated Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Good Shepherd Food Bank calls for strong support of nutrition policies to continue to be included in any state or federal pandemic relief legislation. We are pleased and honored to discuss the importance of these policies with Senator Collins, Senator King, Congresswoman Pingree and Congressman Golden.”

Pre-pandemic, Maine had approximately 180,000 people struggling with food insecurity. Good Shepherd Food Bank believes this number could climb to as high as 250,000 people, should rates of unemployment and poverty sustain at high rates. The best defense against hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Over the July recess, Good Shepherd Food Bank had discussions with each of Maine’s Members of Congress to share our mutual concern for Mainers experiencing food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic, and the importance of including policies to strengthen SNAP and other nutrition programs in the next Coronavirus Relief legislation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially increased food insecurity among Mainers,” said Senator Collins (R-Maine). “This issue transcends partisan lines, and Congress has worked on a bipartisan basis to help meet the overwhelming need for nutrition programs among seniors, children, and low-income families during the current public health and economic crisis. Just last week, I visited Native Maine to help assemble some of the 45,000 food boxes of fresh local produce they are preparing to distribute to Maine food banks. Maine was originally excluded from this program, but Maine’s Congressional Delegation worked together to ensure our state received funding. As a founding member of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I will continue to work across the aisle to help Mainers put food on the table.”

“Food insecurity is something we must always make a priority, regardless of circumstances – but the coronavirus pandemic has magnified the urgent need and expanded the reach of food insecurity,” said Senator Angus King (I-Maine). “Nutrition programs have done demonstrated good for the health and wellness of Maine’s population while also providing economic aid to grocery stores and local communities, and we must make them an increased part of the conversation as we map out further coronavirus relief funding.”

Congresswoman Pingree (D-Maine) joined a letter to Congressional Leaders, urging them to action. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused food insecurity to double among all households and triple among households with children according to the US Department of Agriculture,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “Increasing SNAP benefits is a proven way to address hunger and pump money back into the economy, particularly during an economic downturn.”

“With thousands of Mainers out of work Congress should respond to the needs of struggling Americans in the midst of this economic downturn by protecting SNAP benefits, particularly for families with children and our seniors,” stated Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02).

SNAP was a life changer for Tim Keefe from Rockland, Maine. “I worked my whole life since I was 11 and worked hard when I was a single parent to two daughters,” said Keefe “I also served in the Navy and then was told, after I was hurt on a job, that I didn’t qualify for SNAP because of the work requirements. So for a year, I didn’t qualify for SNAP and I went multiple days without eating, multiple times. You can’t imagine the desperation you feel when you haven’t had food, unless you’ve been there. The year I spent without income and SNAP was traumatic, finally, when I did qualify for SNAP, it meant I didn’t have to be desperate anymore. I could finally focus on something other than where my next meal would come from.”

Support of nutrition programs included in the Families First and the CARES Act have been instrumental in putting food on the tables of Maine families. “Food insecurity has lead me to choose between food staples needed for meals and healthy options for both meals and snacks,” shared Rebekah Milton from Tenants Harbor, Maine. “Having two children who prefer fresh fruits and veggies over almost any other food, food insecurity often means I don’t get to provide them the items they want most and are best for them. The need for an overall increase in SNAP benefits is even more obvious now as shortages are causing increases in many grocery items. Budgeting with SNAP funds at best has participants choosing the lower quality items they need, and with food cost increases, it now means going without many items completely.”

While the Food Bank’s purchasing power is strong, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is stronger. The charitable food system alone cannot meet the increasing need in Maine due to the pandemic.

Good Shepherd Food Bank analyzed data collected since the crisis began to understand better how Mainers are utilizing pantries during COVID-19. Three-quarters of Mainers accessing a food pantry since the onset of the pandemic indicate that they resided in a household where someone was at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because of age or health-related considerations. Additionally, 35% of pantry patrons indicated that their first time visiting a pantry has been since the onset of the pandemic. Over 80% of surveyed patrons also indicated that the pandemic will continue to make it more difficult to make ends meet than their pre-pandemic economic and food security.

Over the first three months of the pandemic, households with net incomes of less than $1,000 per month continue to represent the greatest portion of pantry patrons. However, there has been an increase of households visiting that have higher net monthly incomes since the pandemic began. The majority of individuals that have relied on the pantry network since the beginning of the pandemic have been either under 18 or a senior. So far, the rate of patrons who visit once or twice is up from pre-pandemic rates. And there has been an overall influx of first-time pantry patrons since the pandemic began.

There are new challenges emerging from the public health emergency and resulting economic crisis every day. While too many Mainers already struggled with high levels of food insecurity and hunger before the Coronavirus started to spread in Maine, we’ve seen the need for additional food assistance soar since mid-March. Nearly one-third of SNAP recipients in Maine work in the service industry – undoubtedly the hardest-hit economic industry, and the one that is projected to continue being the hardest hit. Congress took some essential first steps to address those needs in its first response to the emergency. However, Congressional action is needed to strengthen SNAP so it can better support the nutritional needs of people across our state.

While food bankers, partner agencies, and volunteers will continue to serve on the frontlines to ensure communities in need have food during this difficult time, the charitable sector alone will not meet the surging demand for food assistance. When asked how they were coping with the increased demand, food pantries across the state voiced their concern about the impending cuts, taking effect on July 31, 2020.

  • “The Southern Aroostook area has been well taken care of by all the food pantries. We are doing well, I am concerned about when food stamps start to be cut, and families start to receive shut-offs from utilities.” Frank Nataluk, The Salvation Army
  • “We are doing OK, we have enough food to cover our recipients now, as we are {servicing} about the same, but we are waiting for increases as the unemployment and SNAP benefits sunset.” Lorain K Francis, Come Spring Food Pantry
  • “Our distribution numbers show wild fluctuations. New clients that we began seeing since COVID-19, but also several former clients who haven’t been here since January. A number of them said that with the increase in food stamps, unemployment, rental assistance, etc., they didn’t need the food bank right now.” Bob Moore, Augusta Food Bank
  • “The number of patrons has decreased for the last two food distribution days because of the extra money given for unemployment and stimulus checks. The school has been delivering family food boxes to a number of our regular patrons every Monday. We expect the numbers to climb drastically in July as all of the above will no longer be available.” Candice Braley, Clifton Community Food Bank

“To ensure no one goes hungry during, or after, the COVID-19 pandemic, Mainers need our elected leaders to respond with strong support of the nation’s federal nutrition programs,” said Miale. “We have full confidence in Maine’s members of Congress to lead their colleagues to policy decisions that will address the increased food insecurity in our nation.”