PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Community Food Bank has released its 2023 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island, one week ahead of Giving Tuesday.

The report outlines three major findings drawn from hunger and quality of life research, including the food bank’s 2023 Rhode Island Hunger Survey as well as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Brown University School of Public Health’s RI Life Index.

A record number of Rhode Islanders sought food assistance in 2023

The food bank reported serving an average of 77,500 people per month at its 143 member agencies in 2023 (based on numbers from January to September). This is 30% more people each month than in 2022 and a 49% increase from the year before the pandemic.

“We are doing everything possible to make sure that the shelves at those food pantries and meal sites are stocked, not just for Thanksgiving, but throughout the year,” R.I. Community Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff said.

Column graph showing the increasing average number of people served by RI Community Food Bank agencies each month.
Data: 2023 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island

The food bank cited Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data and studies of food and housing costs to determine that SNAP benefits were reduced by 32% when the COVID-19 emergency allocation ended in March 2023, meaning each SNAP household lost an average of $155 per month.

Meanwhile, food prices in the state went up by 11% between July 2022 and July 2022, and the “fair market rent” for a two-bedroom apartment in Rhode Island increased by 14%, from $1,265 in 2022 to $1,444 in 2023.

Nearly 1 in 3 Rhode Island households can’t afford adequate food

In the Status Report, the food bank relayed that 29% of households in Rhode Island are unable to afford adequate food, citing the RI Life Index.

The percentages of households reporting food insecurity are even higher for households with at least one child under 18, as well as for non-white households.

Data: 2023 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island

Ending free meals for all students led to a decline in participants

Federal authorization that gave free school breakfast and lunch to all Rhode Island students ended in June 2022, after which schools in the state reverted to a tiered fee system based on household income.

Column graph showing a decrease in children participating in school breakfast and lunch programs between the 2021-22 school year and the 2022-23 school year.
Data: 2023 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island

The food bank said that the number of Rhode Island children participating in school breakfast and lunch programs dropped the following year by 27% and 15% respectively, explaining that many families who do not qualify for free meals (with a household income below 130% of the federal poverty level) are still not able to afford full or reduced-price school meals.

Possible solutions

The 2023 Status Report also provides policy suggestions to help address hunger in the Ocean State. It cited three pandemic-era programs that were effective in reducing food insecurity — higher SNAP benefits, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and free school meals for all — and encouraged local and federal leaders to increase funding for similar programs.

“We have to bring those programs back to help low-income families be able to have the food they need,” Schiff said.