Photo courtesy UTEP

Op-Ed – Pandemic Recovery v. Reality

Pandemic Recovery v. Reality

          -by Susan Goodell

It seems as though the hits keep coming. Some talk about a recovering economy, but for people struggling with poverty, hunger and limited or no access to healthcare, recovery is slow-going. Tens of millions of individuals and families in America faced these issues long before the pandemic hit. And for them, the recovery some speak of is simply out of reach. They will be the last to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Help did come as the federal government made unprecedented investments in an attempt to address the devastating effects that the pandemic has wreaked on vulnerable families and the national economy. There was an equally unprecedented response by food banks and social service agencies to keep families fed and to provide access to critical safety net programs. All in an effort to simply save lives and ease the heavy burden felt by not only those already facing economic hardship but also for those feeling it for the first time.

We are seeing and feeling the gradual but very real phase-out of pandemic relief measures, food banks across the country are seeing and feeling it, and the El Paso community is seeing and feeling it. The previously passed 15% increase for every SNAP recipient ended on September 30th; the temporary maximum benefit boost to SNAP will end when the State’s disaster declaration ends; and even with the recent update to the Thrifty Food Plan which determines the level of a family’s monthly SNAP benefit, in the end, will not cover anywhere near the cost of the food a family needs for a month. This summer, the State of Texas ended its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, further decreasing people’s ability to keep up with living expenses. We are hopeful that federal policymakers take this opportunity to pass the Build Back Better legislation that will extend or make permanent the provisions relating to nutrition that were implemented as a result of the pandemic, such as the Child Tax Credit and Summer-EBT (otherwise known as Pandemic-EBT).

Household budgets are still upended and, with food prices soaring, the choices only get more difficult. But food isn’t the only commodity with a bigger price tag. Fuel costs are rising, and this makes day-to-day life even harder for those with little to no wiggle room in their budgets. Heating their homes this winter will cost more, filling their gas tanks so that they can get to work and school will cost more, and the result is that the pressure and stress on already overburdened households only intensifies.

Add to all of this the supply chain disruptions that are affecting nearly every business whose work involves processing, transportation, logistics and warehousing. And yes, that includes food banks. El Pasoans Fighting Hunger is an organization that is essentially just that; a 177,000 square foot distribution center that procures, stores and transports food to a three-county service area. While the demand for emergency food distributions is slightly down from 2020, it remains many times higher than it was pre-pandemic. What all this means is that the cost of doing the work to provide tens of thousands of individuals and families the nutritious food they need places a strain on the organization. The leveling off of government intervention and decrease in overall donations of funds and food leaves our food bank looking to the future with more uncertainty than ever before.

While recovery is where we all want to be, this is just not the reality for those we serve. We know because they tell us every day just how much the food we provide helps them. Many of our clients are caretakers of elderly or disabled family members, they are caring for young children and grandchildren and having access to food from the food bank means they can pay rent or that electric bill or for critical medication they need. They can gas up their car to get to work and take their children to school. Others are recently retired, but have quickly become aware that their retirement income does not cover all their household expenses; they find themselves relying on the food bank while also looking for part-time work. We hear these stories every day from mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are struggling and often times feel desperate and forgotten. We hear them, we see them, and we will be here to help them access the food and nutrition they need to live and thrive.


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