PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Thousands of Rhode Island residents cannot afford three meals a day, despite the state’s improving economy and low unemployment rate, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank said Monday.
The food bank released its annual report on hunger to coincide with Thanksgiving week and update 2016 data on missing meals.
It takes 188.3 million meals annually to feed the 172,000 Rhode Island residents living in households qualifying for food assistance. But, the food bank calculated, their household earnings and benefits cover 177 million meals, leaving a gap of 11.3 million meals annually.
Food bank CEO Andrew Schiff says the number is too high but is down from 33.2 million meals in 2016 because more people are working. In 2016, 198,000 residents qualified for food assistance.
“The improving economy is a good thing and it’s helping a lot of families, but our point is, there’s this large group that has been left behind,” Schiff said.
The food bank’s network of pantries serves about 53,000 people each month, which is unchanged from 2018. Roughly 33,000 people sought food assistance per month in 2007, before the recession.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate in October was 3.6%, unchanged from September. It is four-tenths of a percentage point lower than October 2018. The state rate is the same as the national rate.
The jobless rate in Rhode Island was one of the worst in the nation during the recession, reaching peaks of more than 11 percent from 2009 to 2011.
The Trump administration has proposed tightening eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was once known as food stamps.
Schiff worries that the state will lose the gains it has made and food pantries will be overwhelmed. He is asking members of the state’s congressional delegation to oppose any cuts to SNAP, as they have in the past.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed called the proposed cuts “shortsighted and wrong” because ensuring people have access to healthy food is a cost-effective way to ensure healthier communities and cut down on public health costs. The Rhode Island Democrat said the food bank’s report is a stark reminder of the challenges to ending chronic hunger in Rhode Island.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says he’ll also work to protect these “vital benefits from any cuts.”
“Even as big business reaps the benefits of this long economic recovery, far too many hardworking Rhode Islanders are simply not making enough to pay for food in addition to making rent and paying utilities,” the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement.
The food bank is also asking for additional state funding and wants schools in poor districts to offer breakfast after the start of the school day, not before, to feed more kids.