Among 25 city mayors in the U.S., 83 percent report that the need for emergency food assistance through kitchens and food pantries increased this year compared to last, according to the latest report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Requests for emergency assistance were up by 7 percent on average across all of the cities. Forty-three percent of those in need were employed.
Correspondingly, the mayors reported a big increase in how much food was distributed. There was a 7 percent average increase the pounds of food given out, totaling 557 million pounds for all of the cities combined.
Yet even with the increase, 21 percent of those who needed the assistance didn’t get it across the 25 cities. In two-thirds, facilities had to turn people away because they didn’t have enough resources, and in all of cities they had to reduce the quantity of food those in need could take from each visit or eat per each meal. More than three-quarters of the cities reported pantries and kitchens having to reduce the number of visits allowable each month.
All but one of the mayors is bracing for demand to increase next year, and the number one culprit they point to is cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, which were reduced to an average of $1.40 a meal at the beginning of November and are facing another likely reduction thanks to Congress. Yet nearly three-quarters are also anticipating fewer resources to meet the need for food.
Hunger has been spiking since the recession, with more than 50 million Americans who are now food insecure. Food pantries and other charities had already warned back in the spring that they were experiencing high demand and wouldn’t be able to pick up the slack from SNAP cuts.
The cuts to the food stamp program also come at a time when its enrollment and spending are beginning to decline on their own, and the money needed to fund it will fall by half by 2023 without any Congressional action.
The report from the Conference of Mayors also notes that many cities have seen increases in homelessness this year. Across all 25 cities, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 3 percent. But an average of 22 percent of those who needed assistance didn’t get it, and emergency shelters in the majority of the cities had to turn people away because there were no bed available.