There are more households in Rhode Island that cannot afford adequate food now than before the pandemic, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank said Monday.
The food bank released its annual report on hunger to coincide with Thanksgiving week.
The food bank report said that food insecurity is now three times more prevalent than before the pandemic, with 31% of Rhode Island households surveyed earlier this year responding that they were unable to afford adequate food, up from 18.4% in 2021, 25.2% in 2020 and 9.1% from 2017 to 2019.
Food bank CEO Andrew Schiff said that while Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is low and people are working, the problem is that many workers’ wages can’t keep up with the impacts of inflation and the high cost of living.
Food prices in Rhode Island increased 13% over the past year and families are facing higher heating oil bills this winter, Schiff said. The risk of hunger is highest for low-income families with children and in communities of color, he added.
The food bank also said that demand for food assistance is increasing as critical pandemic relief programs and emergency benefits end. Food pantries that are part of the food bank’s statewide network are now serving about 63,000 residents monthly, which is about 10,000 more people each month than in 2021.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the report is a stark reminder that the end of the pandemic relief programs, combined with higher grocery prices, affects the ability of many families to afford health food. There are simply too many hungry families in Rhode Island and across the nation, he added.
The food bank wants the governor to use state funding to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in school. Schiff said it’s crucial that Congress reinstate the expanded child tax credit and increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.