ADRIANA REZAL SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Holiday meals will be unusually expensive this year, with Bay Area food prices up 10% from last year, according to October data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, enrollment in the state’s largest food aid program is at an all-time high.
This holiday season, more local residents than usual will be dependent on financial assistance from CalFresh, California’s nutritional assistance program. Data for September put him over 600,000 in the Bay Area county, up nearly 50% from September 2019.
Towards the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government made CalFresh more generous. This is one of the reasons more people signed up to receive food assistance. According to a California Public Policy Institute report, as of January 2022, the average participant will receive an average of $262 in food aid each month. This is up from $141 per month in 2019. CalFresh expects to continue paying its unusually large quota for as long as the country remains in the public health emergency.
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Still, according to Meg Davidson, director of policy and advocacy at the San Francisco Marine Food Bank, which provides food to low-income families and helps people sign up for CalFresh benefits, the public’s need for food assistance is growing. It hasn’t weakened.
Dealing with the need for food aid through the pandemic, with the surge in COVID-19 cases, people losing their jobs, inflation and rising food prices, has been a “whack-a-mole game. Things are back.”
“We have met historic levels of need since the pandemic began.” not only, but in all programs.”
Napa County has awarded nearly $4 million in grants to local nonprofits for a variety of needs, including food and housing.
The impact of soaring food prices is being felt by families and food banks alike.The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank estimates that inflation will cost holiday menus 35% more this year than last year.
CalFresh participation rates increased in all Bay Area counties from 2019 to 2022. San Francisco had the highest percentage increase of any of the nine counties, with a 56% increase in enrollments from September 2019 to September 2022. Contra Costa County followed suit with her 52% increase.
A previous Chronicle analysis showed that wealthy California counties saw the most increases in CalFresh participation since the start of the pandemic. This is largely because these counties had the lowest participation rates from the start.
As the economy slows, inflation will be felt particularly strongly among people of color and low-wage workers, according to Abimael Chavez-Hernandez, an economic justice researcher at the San Francisco-based think tank SPUR.Chavez-Hernandez In a recent report, he notes, Black and Brown Bay Area residents will be hit particularly hard by unemployment during the pandemic and are particularly likely to be food insecure.
Chavez-Hernandez believes increased CalFresh payments may not be enough to adequately help these struggling families. “There has been an annual adjustment in inflation, but recent increases in food prices, especially after April 2021, have made it difficult to keep up,” said Chavez Hernandez.
Photo: Napa Valley Turkey Chase, 2022