More than a million Michiganders who receive federal food assistance will see extra benefits loaded onto their Bridge cards later this month and food banks and pantries across the state stand to get a much needed boost.
The latest federal stimulus package earmarks $13 billion for food assistance, including a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits through June and additional money for food banks, as Americans continue to struggle to put food on the table.
“When money’s tight, the grocery budget is often one of the first sacrifices that a family will make because it’s one of the quickest or easiest ones to make,” said Julie Cassidy, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy.
In Michigan, a one-person household getting $204 in maximum monthly food stamp benefits can expect to receive $234, as part of the new stimulus. A two-person household getting $374 per month would be bumped up to $430, according to the Michigan department of health and human services.
People can apply for benefits or check their benefits at michigan.gov/MIBridges.
“We expect this increase to begin by the end of the month and will continue through June,” said Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for MDHHS, in an email.
SNAP benefits are one of the most “efficient and effective means to ensure that people have enough to eat during the widespread crisis,” Cassidy said, adding that a temporary 15% increase is “not a cure all for the problem of people not being able to afford food” but welcome help.
More than a million Michiganders between Dec. 9 and Dec. 21 said they didn’t have enough food to eat, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The state’s 2-1-1 central dashboard reports that food pantries are among the top COVID-19-related service people contact the hotline about.
“There was a crisis of food and insecurity before COVID. … and then with COVID layered on top of that, it’s really a crisis on top of a crisis,” said Carol Shattuck, CEO of Food Rescue US, a nonprofit transferring usable food from grocers and restaurants, that otherwise would be thrown away, to families facing food insecurity.
Food need ‘profound and persistent’
As for organizations addressing food need, through the federal relief bill, Michigan’s network of 3,000 pantries expects more food to distribute across the state, said Phillip Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan.
Some programs funded by previous federal aid to address rising food insecurity in Michigan ended last month. The U.S. department of agriculture on Thursday evening allocated about $11 million in food products to Michigan, which will provide additional food through the summer, said Diane Golzynski, director of the health and nutrition services office at the Michigan department of education.
“Before the pandemic our network distributed on average 2.6 million pounds of emergency food every week. Since the pandemic, we’ve grown our infrastructure and we’ve been on average distributing 4.5 million pounds of food very week,” Knight said, adding that the council anticipates high rates of food insecurity to last through June of next year.
The funding supplies food boxes to food banks like Gleaners Community Food Bank, and it’s “absolutely an enabler to our work,” said Stacy Averill, vice president of community giving and public relations at Gleaners, adding that the amount of food Gleaners has been getting is significantly higher compared to pre-pandemic months.
“The increased distributions that we’ve done since the start of the pandemic, we can continue those for longer,” she said. “And that’s critical to our work because we know that the community need is going to continue for quite a while.”
Since March, food need has been “profound and persistent,” said Steve Palackdharry, communications director for Southwest Solutions.
By 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Anthony’s, Gleaners and Southwest Solutions gave out more than 14,000 pounds of food — milk, potatoes, frozen meat and pasta at a free distribution event. Gleaners had to break out the emergency allotment which also ran out by noon, he said.
The Detroit-based nonprofit has partnered with Gleaners to run weekly food drives since the pandemic began. Last year, it ran 30 drives, serving about 12,000 families. That’s 400 families each week with about 50 cars already in line by 9 a.m., when the distribution officially begins. Prior to the pandemic, Southwest Solutions hadn’t run a food program.
“People have to make really difficult financial choices, because their incomes have been squeezed through unemployment,” Palackdharry said. Southwest Solutions and its partners plan to hold 25 more free distributions this year.
The Detroit chapter of Food Rescue US serves as a bridge between large food vendors and smaller agencies — like those that serve the homeless and seniors. It has been running a weekly food distribution site at TCF Center since May, where those agencies can pick up food boxes.
Demand for food is dire, said Darraugh Collins, site director in Detroit. Agencies may pick up 200 boxes and give them out within two hours or pick up 600 boxes at a time.
“They are the last mile delivery for us,” she said. “We get the boxes to them, but they take it the last mile. So they are seeing firsthand, that need.”
Now, Food Rescue US Detroit — and the 53 agencies it works with — are waiting for details on when they can get more boxes through a new round of the USDA’s Families Food Box Program, which got funding from the recent stimulus package.
How to get help
Find a food pantry near you (it’s recommended to call ahead for hours of operation and eligibility requirements):
- Detroit Food Resource Finder (Detroit only); 313-876-4000
- Forgotten Harvest (southeast Michigan only); 248-967-1500
- Gleaners Community Food Bank (southeast Michigan only); 866-453-2637
For additional help with emergency food assistance, call 2-1-1 or the statewide toll-free number, 844-875-9211
SNAP recipients can check their benefits by going to www.michigan.gov/MIBridges or reaching out to a consumer service representative toll-free at 888-678-8914. Spanish and Arabic service is available. Michiganders who are deaf, blind, hard of hearing or speech-impaired, can call the Michigan Relay Center at 7-1-1.