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Food Bank sees food insecurity still rising in Delaware

The Food Bank of Delaware is seeing a bump in people served since last fall - following the worst of inflation and the end of expanded SNAP benefits earlier this year.

The Food Bank’s Healthy Pantry Centers in Newark and Milford recorded a 76% increase from 28,583 household visits to 50,309, from Fiscal Year 2022 to 2023. The most recent fiscal year they distributed 17.2 million pounds of food, the most in the organization’s history.

Food Bank spokesperson Kim Turner says they were overwhelmed early in the pandemic until emergency benefits kicked in. But as inflation soared last fall, their on-site numbers went from 600 to 800 people served each week to over 1000.

Those numbers held steady after emergency SNAP benefits ended in February, but Turner says other states whose benefits ended before Delaware saw the effects about six months later, which is now on the horizon in the First State.

She adds they see increases around the time that kids go back to school, and parents are spending money on new clothes and school supplies.

“You always want to go with good data but sometimes, I’m going with my gut feeling of what I’m seeing on the ground," Turner says. "And it just feels like we are doing so much, like there are more than one in 10 people in our state that are in need of our assistance.”

In Delaware, 120,805 people use SNAP benefits, but Turner thinks the number of people experiencing food insecurity is closer to the number of people enrolled in Medicaid – around 327,000 – who are in a lower income bracket, but not low enough to qualify for SNAP.

The Food Research and Action Center is advocating for legislation to expand benefit eligibility through the Farm Bill, a package of legislation passed every five years, and up for reauthorization this year, covering programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families, from beginning farmer training to support for sustainable farming practices.

FRAC’s SNAP Deputy Director Gina Plata-Nino says when emergency SNAP benefits ended in February, the average Delawarean on SNAP lost $82 a month. Older adults who only qualify for the minimum SNAP benefit saw the biggest drop-off - from $281 a month to $23.

And with benefits cut, FRAC opposes the SNAP Nutrition Security Act which seeks to collect data on the type of food people buy.

“It really depends what they’re going to check based on belt placement," Plata-Nino says. "So say they have their bread and milk first and then that’s what they’re going to say that individual ate. But the fresh fruits and veggies were in the back and was paid with another mode of tender, it’s not accounted. So it’s incredibly difficult to say ‘this is what people are eating.’”

She adds they stand by beneficiaries’ right to choose their own food to buy.

FRAC also backs the Closing the Meal Gap Act which would raise the minimum benefit by basing it on the Low Cost Food Plan and adjusting the percentage applied.

And Plata-Nino says the Improving Access to Nutrition Act would eliminate three-month time limits on SNAP eligibility for certain working-age adults who are underemployed or looking for a job.

THE Enhance Access to SNAP Act (EATS Act) would put college students with lower incomes on an equal footing with other people in qualifying for SNAP.

THE Hot Foods Act would permanently end the prohibition on use of SNAP benefits to purchase hot prepared foods from food retailers.

And the Lift the Bar Act seeks to restore access to public programs for lawfully present immigrants by removing the five-year waiting period and other restrictions to SNAP eligibility.

Plata-Nino says for every meal that the average food bank provides, SNAP provides nine times more, taking pressure off of struggling food banks while supporting local economies.

“Food insecurity for individuals, we’re almost at the same rates that we were during the pandemic," Plata-Nino says. "But the resources that were there are gone.”

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.