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St. Louis-Area Food Banks Expect Surge As Missouri Ends Federal Unemployment Benefits

Feed My People volunteer Kay Thompson bags a food donation at the south St. Louis county location in May 2020.
Feed My People
Feed My People volunteer Kay Thompson bags a food donation at the south St. Louis County location in May 2020.

St. Louis-area food pantries expect to serve more people now that Missouri has ended federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Thousands of jobless Missourians receiving unemployment will see their checks cut in half since Gov. Mike Parson ended the extra $300 in federal aid on Saturday. Parson joins 24 other Republican governors in suspending the aid months before it expires to push people back to work.

“It's time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce,” the governor said in a press release that attributed workforce shortages in the state to federal unemployment.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and other elected officials say Parson’s decision will hurt people who are unemployed and struggling to feed their families. They say that people need the extra money, and that without it, many will have to rely on social services, including food assistance.

The Feed My People food pantry in south St. Louis County and Jefferson County is expecting a 30% increase in clients because of the cut.

“There could be a real shock when unemployment dries up,” Executive Director Karen Lanter said. “We're expecting to be able to pick up some of that slack and to keep families fed while they get back to work.”

Feed My People typically serves 1,000 people a week. This spring, Lanter said the pantry served fewer people because they were using the additional unemployment assistance to buy food. Now she expects to see more people coming back to the pantry for food.

More than 45,000 Missourians filed for unemployment in April, according to the state’s Department of Labor. That month, St. Louis had the highest unemployment rate in the region at 6.2%. Statewide, the unemployment rate was 4.1%.

As many families recover from job losses related to the pandemic, the summer brings on additional challenges because kids are no longer able to access free meals at school.

“Each summer, regardless of the federal benefit being there or not being there, we do see a spike in need and this removal of a benefit is certainly not going to help,” said Brian Wieher, the director of child and family nutrition at Operation Food Search.

While camps and summer school can help relieve the burden on families, Wieher said families have to come up with an additional $300 per child a month to cover meal costs during the summer.

“You already have a stretched budget, you may be receiving SNAP benefits, it just piles on,” he said.

Over the past five years, Operation Food Search gave out 2,000 meals a week in its summer assistance program for children. In 2020, the number soared to 20,000 meals a week.

Wieher said he expects demand to decrease this summer, but not by much.

If you need food assistance, call United Way’s hotline at 211 to find a pantry near you or click here to search online for one.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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