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With $600 unemployment benefit expiring, food banks prep for demand

With $600 unemployment benefit expiring, food banks prep for demand
Posted at 1:15 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 16:22:38-04

Congress has been unable to agree on a new stimulus package, and now, a key feature of the last package--the $600 enhanced unemployment benefit--has lapsed.

“We definitely anticipate significant increases in the number of families and individuals that will begin to rely on emergency food programs more heavily as a result of the loss of this $600 additional benefit,” said Zanita Tisdale, who works with the Food Bank for New York City.

The Food Bank for New York City has provided more than 30 million meals from March to April, just in New York. With many on unemployment losing almost two-thirds of their income now, there will be an even greater need in the city and beyond.

“Our network of over 1,000 emergency food providers across 90 percent of the zip codes here in the city are really bracing themselves and making sure they are already bringing in enough resources,” Tisdale added.

A study done by Feeding America shows 1 in 6 Americans could now struggle with hunger as a result of the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. That is 54 million Americans, 17 million more people since the start of the pandemic.

“About 30 to 40 percent of estimated clients that are coming to food banks have never called a food bank before for help,” said Zuani Villarreal with Feeding America.

“The deeper we get into this economic crisis and also taking into consideration that Congress is essentially late in passing new legislation, the more significant our economic challenges are going to be as a nation,” said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst with Bankrate.com.

Hamrick warns if Congress doesn’t act fast to end the lapse of enhanced benefits, not only will more people go hungry, but our economy will take a more troubling hit.

“The deeper we get into this lack of action on the part of elected officials, the more it exacerbates the level of uncertainty that we have,’ said Hamrick. “I do believe, and I hope I am not overly optimistic, that both sides will come together.”

Currently, the House’s idea for a second package, the HEROES Act, was passed in May. However, it has been mostly ignored by the Senate. It’s a $3 trillion plan that proposed extending the $600 benefit in full. Within the past week, Senate Republicans have revealed their own plan, the HEALS Act. It’s a $1 trillion plan that reduces the former $600 a week enhanced benefit to $200.

Since any plan has to pass in both the Senate and House, it’s unclear when an actual stimulus plan will be seen. Until then, food banks around the country are bracing for many more Americans to need their help.

“Of course, we want our elected officials to do the right thing, but we are going to be here ready and waiting with no barriers to services, no questions asked,” said Tisdale. “This is a judgment-free zone. We understand people just need some support.”