SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Food Bank workers unloaded a second shipment of food Tuesday made possible by an appropriation from Salt Lake County.
The Salt Lake County Council appropriated $137,000 last week to keep Women, Infants and Children clinics open for a week after they lost funding because of the federal government shutdown. However, after the Utah Department of Health worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to temporarily fund the clinics, the county instead donated $30,000 of its appropriation to the Utah Food Bank.
The food bank used the funds to purchase roughly 1,400 cans of formula, as well as baby food and regular food items for mothers.
“That could be gone in a day,” said Ginette Bott, chief development officer of the Utah Food Bank.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the emergency appropriation was made to help about 25,000 women in the community eligible for baby formula.
“Everybody wants to be self-reliant but there are times where people need a safety net, and what we’re looking at here is women who have young children that they are not able to provide for,” McAdams said. “We do not want to see children in our community malnourished."
Women, Infant and Children clinics received enough from the state to remain in operation for the rest of October, but will soon be in the same position if federal funding isn’t available — a cause of concern for both the food bank and the mayor.
“We stepped forward in this case on a one-week basis, but we can’t do that indefinitely,” McAdams said. “We’re looking at probably the ability to do it for two to three weeks, is about the extent of our financial capabilities. We need a federal government that can step forward to work out issues.”
One in five Utah children could go without their next meal, according to Bott. A USDA report shows a similar statistic: 21.6 percent of American children were in food insecure households in 2012, meaning the household couldn’t afford an adequate diet at all times for a year.
The number of Americans struggling with hunger rose steeply from 17.7 percent in June to 20 percent in August and is close to the recession's November 2008 peak at 20.4 percent, according to a Gallup poll. This percentage has yet to come back down to pre-recession levels.
Utahns dealing with hunger issues are mostly families and seniors. Bott attributes it to the fact that Utah has big families and a large senior population.
“Seniors are tough because they’re on a fixed income, and a lot of them have no family,” Bott said. “They have no support, so when that government check is gone, they have nothing that they can depend on until the next check comes.”
Bott said she is seeing this need increase and is worried about even more need when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are cut back. On Nov. 1, benefits will decrease about $10 a month per person. This could mean a lot to a single person, but it really adds up for large families.
The number of Utah food stamp users decreased from 113,783 in 2012 to 107,395 in 2013, said Nic Dunn of the Department of Workforce Services. So far, the 2014 fiscal year is averaging about 98,000 cases a month — still a significant population who will feel the repercussions of cuts to the food stamp benefit.
“When the SNAP benefit decreases, people can’t buy as much at the store, so they need to come to a pantry to supplement. So we’ll see an increase in need across the state,” Bott said. “I don’t sleep at night for that very reason (of not having enough to meet that increase).”
From July 2012 through June 2013, the Utah Food Bank had 109,000 hours of volunteer time and donated 36 million pounds of food. So far this year, the food bank is on track for expected donations, but Bott is still concerned about meeting needs. She said most families needing help fall into the category of “working poor,” where one or two people in the family may have gotten back to work, but they still aren’t able to make ends meet.
Bott said she’s also worried about small communities without a brick-and-mortar pantry if the demand climbs. The food bank will need to increase mobile delivery throughout the state, requiring higher transportation costs to get food to the 130 food pantries and organizations throughout Utah. The holidays are around the corner and needs will rise as families tend to use food money to purchase holiday items instead.
“We see it every year,” Bott said. “In years past we’ve tried to supply turkeys for Thanksgiving and things like that. I don’t know that this year we’ll be able to do that. I think we’re going to have to focus on the necessities, not giving one special meal during that one month, but take that money and provide additional meals throughout the course of the upcoming months.
"We’re really nervous.”