The Rhode Island Community Food Bank today released its 2021 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island. The report noted that more than 18% of Rhode Island households — one in six — are unable to meet their basic food needs. And, this number is expected to grow as government programs and benefits that supported low-income Rhode Islanders during COVID-19 come to an end.
“Post-pandemic recovery simply doesn’t apply to the lives of many Rhode Islanders,” says Andrew Schiff, chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “As supportive government programs and benefits disappear, the ripple effects of COVID-19 continue to be seen on the kitchen tables of people across the state.”
Federal benefits play an important role in helping to alleviate hunger at the national level, according to Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “Hunger in Rhode Island and across the country would be far worse if not for the federal nutrition programs,” he said. “The fallout from COVID-19 will continue for years to come, and Congress and the Biden administration must use all of the tools at their disposable to strengthen these programs to reduce food insecurity, improve educational outcomes and promote economic stability.”
Locally, Food Bank member agencies report the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on hunger in the state. “Hunger has been, and will continue to be, an unrelenting reality for many Rhode Islanders throughout the pandemic and beyond,” said Allori Fernandes, director of Adult & Aging Services at Federal Hill House Association in Providence. “From individuals who’ve lost jobs and parents who’ve lost childcare to elders struggling to afford food on a fixed income, we see this reality reflected every day in the guests who visit our two food pantries.”
Major Findings of the 2021 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island
While food insecurity in Rhode Island declined from last year’s pandemic high, the prevalence of food insecurity today (one in six households) remains far above pre-COVID levels. The risk of hunger is even higher for Rhode Island families with children — one in four cannot meet basic food needs.
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) decreased in Rhode Island between April 2020 and March 2021, even though Rhode Island Medicaid enrollment grew by 11% during the same period. This decline in SNAP enrollment in Rhode Island bucks a national trend of increased enrollment.
Food insecurity disproportionately affects Black, Latinx and all minority households at rates at least 10% higher than white households.
The Child Tax Credit, now fully refundable to families at the bottom of the income ladder, has the potential to reduce child poverty by half, with the greatest gains to be realized by Black and Latinx children.
Stemming the Tide as Support Wanes
The Rhode Island Community Food Bank distributed 15.1 million pounds of food to member agencies across Rhode Island between July 2020 and June 2021. This distribution marked a 9% increase from last year and a 30% increase (3.5 million pounds) from the year just prior to the COVID-19 emergency.
Federal programs, including extra SNAP benefits and Pandemic-EBT, helped stem the surge in demand for food assistance. But as Federal support wanes, member agencies across the state are preparing for an influx of guests who need help putting food on the table.
During its 2021 session, the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted legislation designed to increase support for low-income families. These legislative actions included:
Increasing the minimum wage from $11.50 to $15 per hour by January 2025.
Raising the monthly cash benefit amount for low-income families enrolled in Rhode Island Works by 30%.
Doubling annual funding for the Food Bank from $175,000 to $350,000 for food purchase and distribution.
Action Steps You Can Take to Help Hungry Rhode Islanders
The Food Bank recommends that Rhode Islanders take these three action steps to help reduce hunger in our state:
Ask Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation to vote to make the expanded Child Tax Credit permanent. Making the tax credit permanent will help reduce child poverty and racial inequities.
Urge the Governor (governor.ri.gov/contact) to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to reduce barriers and streamline access to SNAP benefits for eligible households in Rhode Island.
Thank our State representatives and senators who voted to increase the minimum wage, raise RI Works benefits and boost funding for the Food Bank.