EVERETT — February and March were among the busiest for the Volunteers of America of Western Washington Everett food bank.
Those two months had the fifth- and fourth-highest individual visits ever at the weekly food bank at 1230 Broadway. They only trailed the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic when unemployment spiked in light of stay-home orders that resulted in widespread job losses.
Food banks and other nutrition assistance programs could be even busier this summer.
Rental assistance funding will dry up by July.
A bill narrowly approved by U.S. House Republicans could slash food assistance program dollars, said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, during a visit to the food bank Monday. Republican leaders presented it as a cost-cutting bill to avert hitting the debt ceiling.
“This isn’t just about saving money,” DelBene said.
She echoed some of President Joe Biden’s concerns about the House GOP legislation. In its current form, the bill isn’t likely to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
But DelBene and others are ringing the alarm of its possible effects, such as cutting food benefits for 187,000 people in Washington, if it were to pass and survive a presidential veto.
“How are people supposed to get by with even less resources?” asked Christina Wong, public policy and advocacy director for Northwest Harvest, a nonprofit that supports food banks.
Brian Smith, interim CEO of Volunteers of America of Western Washington, said he and his wife relied on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) when they had their first child. It’s one of the programs that could see funding slashed in the House bill.
Food program cuts could push the thousands of people who come through the food bank’s doors every year to rely on it even more, Smith said.
The timing would hurt, too, as people struggle with higher costs at grocery stores.
“The need is going to grow exponentially,” Smith said.
Inflation has hit food banks already. Donations are down for the Volunteers of America, which Smith attributed to donor fatigue and higher costs.
Megan Houchin and Erica Polney, registered dieticians at Homage, which provides senior services in Snohomish County, said they worry over more malnutrition with the potential budget cuts. Proposed squeezes to eligibility could make existing health problems
They’ve seen people lose eligibility try to stretch one meal into two, or skip it altogether.
“When that’s cut, they’re making a choice about which meal they’re going to cut each day,” Polney said.
Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @benwatanabe.
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