Virginia food banks fear Congressional inaction could increase demand as donations are down


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Donations are down as food banks in Virginia face their highest demand in recent memory. Now, a bigger problem is on the horizon.

The Federation of Virginia Food Banks oversees seven Feeding America sites and a network of 1,500 partner agencies throughout the state. Executive Director Eddie Oliver said more than one million Virginians are expected to be food insecure when 2020 comes to a close. That’s an estimated increase of more than 30 percent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oliver said they’re seeing a slight drop off in donations, partly due to supply chain disruptions causing shortages at grocery stores.

“This time of year, we get a lot of support from the community in terms of giving back and giving food but we’ve got such a higher level of need that the donations really aren’t keeping up,” Oliver said. “We’re having to purchase about twice as much food every month to compensate for the decrease in those donations and the higher level of need.” 

While this has been an issue throughout the year, Oliver said a larger challenge is rapidly approaching.

Two unemployment programs authorized by the federal CARES Act are set to expire on December 26th–the day after Christmas. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs have propped up millions during coronavirus closures. If Congress fails to pass another relief package before the deadline, Virginians who have exhausted traditional benefits will be left without a safety net.

At the same time, Oliver said three federal food purchasing programs could also come to an end without a replacement for 2021. Taken together–if Congress doesn’t act–it means there could be fewer resources with even more people in need after the holiday season.

“We’re expecting a 50 percent drop off next year unless Congress passes new funding for this program or USDA makes additional purchases,” Oliver said. “That’s really going to have a negative impact on the amount of food we are able to source and distribute to people in need.”

To help out, Oliver said Virginians can donate food, money and their time. He said the pandemic has caused a decline in regular volunteers as corporate groups and retirees opt out to stay safe.

“For very understandable reasons, we’ve seen fewer volunteers this year than we have in the past when we have needed them more than ever,” Oliver said. “We social distance, we wear masks…so if you can come in it would really help a lot.”

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