How to think about food security in the post-pandemic era
The Covid-19 Pandemic pushed food insecurity in Vermont and the nation to levels not seen in decades, well above the peak of 14% in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and recession. At the same time, federal and state programs responded in dramatic ways.
The federal government streamlined the application process for SNAP food assistance benefits and expanded the benefit amount so that most eligible people received the maximum allowed benefit. This meant that, on average, a SNAP household received an extra $85 per month. The increase impacted seniors most dramatically, many of whom qualify for SNAP but receive a very small monthly amount, in some cases adding an extra $200 or more per month to their food budgets.
The state and federal government also funded Everyone Eats, a program that paid participating restaurants to produce meals for food insecure Vermonters. By December 2022, Everybody Eats was providing 25,000 meals per week.
CVOEO conducted a survey in 2022 and found that 20% of those receiving services from CVOEO across the Champlain Valley used their local food pantries less during the pandemic because of the extra SNAP benefits and programs like Everyone Eats. Funding for both of these initiatives expired with the expiration of the public health emergency in March 2023. SNAP benefits will drop back to pre-pandemic levels and Everyone Eats stopped service on March 31, 2023. At the same time, inflation is pushing the cost of food higher for everyone but will affect food insecure Vermonters disproportionally. Research from UVM showed that 90% of food insecure Vermonters changed their food purchasing habits due to inflation in 2022. The same research team found that in 2022 only half of Vermonters who are considered food insecure used a food pantry to supplement their nutritional needs.
So where does this leave us as food security advocates and local food supporters in Addison County in 2023?
It means we need to double down on our support for our local food security providers and increase our advocacy on the state and national levels. Reach out to Senators Welch and Sanders and Representative Balint to tell them to push for SNAP benefit increases as part of the 2023 Farm Bill, our nation’s primary means for setting food and agriculture policy every five years. Reach out to your state representatives and tell them you support universal school meals and that you support increased funding for programs such as Vermonters Feeding Vermonters, which allow food security organizations to purchase local foods for distribution to food insecure Vermonters.
Finally, you can support organizations like CVOEO, ACORN and HOPE, which in various ways are providing critical food assistance in Addison County. CVOEO launched its online food pantry in 2022. Housed on Exchange Street in Middlebury, CVOEO packs orders received through its Pantry Soft website, available 24/7 in over 20 languages. They distribute the pre-ordered, customized food boxes via home delivery and through collaborations with housing, healthcare and childcare providers, as well as to migrant farm workers throughout the county. CVOEO also hosts the ACORN Food Hub and supports the ACORN Online Market by purchasing local products for distribution through their program.
By supporting collaborations between organizations like ACORN and CVOEO, and advocating on the state and national levels, we can strengthen food security and build our local agricultural economy at the same time.
CVOEO Online Food Pantry: [email protected]
ACORN Farmacy: Food is Medicine
HOPE: Universal School Meals/Farm Bill
The Giving Fridge: [email protected]
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