Soaring Grocery Prices and Food Insecurity: How Are Families Getting Help?

This is part of the story out of priceCNET’s coverage of how real people are coping with the high cost of living in the US.

Brandon Douglas/CNET

For Jamie Siracusa, rising food prices means fewer grocery items can go to refill the community refrigerator he runs in Brookline, a Boston suburb.

Community refrigerators are refrigerators located in public spaces where anyone can contribute or receive free food. Siracusa said there’s usually a natural tide of demand in the neighborhood, but some days this year the need has been overwhelming. In October, Siracusa bought enough food to fill the refrigerator twice. In both cases, the food was completely gone within hours.

“Demand is higher than we can supply,” Siracusa said. Said.

Again inflation shows signs of coolingFood prices continue to be higher than they have been in decades. Grocery prices rose more than 12% in October compared to last year, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. Some staples have increased dramatically: the retail price of eggs is about 40% higher than in October 2021.

According to the USDA’s annual food insecurity report, more than 13 million households in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2021. This means that one in 10 households is trying to provide enough food for their families.

Everyone pays more for food these days, but not all consumers are equally bored. The high prices of supermarket staples are hurting low-income families and communities the most and require huge sacrifices and new ways to find affordable food.

Communities react as food prices rise

Boston resident Mark Mraz is a retiree living on a fixed income. She stops by the Brookline Community Refrigerator every now and then to complete her meals, as rising food costs leave less room for other expenses. Despite trying to find the best deals by comparing prices in different supermarkets, food continues to get more out of its budget than in past years.

Jamie Siracusa runs the Brookline Community Refrigerator outside of Boston.

Marcos Cabello/CNET

“The egg is holding, but getting smaller,” Mraz said. “This shared fridge is a good resource. It helps me a lot in pushing my budget. Every bit helps.”

Based in the Bronx, New York, Emmanuel Carvajal works two jobs to support himself and his son, but it’s not enough to live comfortably. Products that used to be bought with higher price tags are now even more expensive. For the most part, it’s not something Carvajal can cut back on like soy milk, as she’s allergic to regular milk. Carvajal occasionally uses the Allerton Allies Community Refrigerator in the East Bronx to lighten the load.

“It’s just the basics. We don’t even go out to eat,” Carvajal said. “Between car payments, supporting my son, and food, that’s not enough.”

Community refrigerators, which exploded during the pandemic and are now in the hundreds across the country, are critical to serving vulnerable and disadvantaged households, particularly in Black, Hispanic and low-income neighborhoods. More Americans are also turning to food banks for the first time in their lives. Feeding America, a nonprofit network of more than 200 food banks, recently found that 65% of the food banks in its network have seen an increase in the number of people coming to their doorstep.

“These are families and individuals who spend more of their disposable income on food than some of the wealthier Americans,” said David Ortega, a food economist and associate professor at Michigan State University. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the poorest 20% of American households devote more of their annual income (between 28.8% and 42.6%) to food, compared to 6.5% of the highest-income households. proved to be devoted to food. To 9.2% in food.

Where are food prices headed?

The combination of global and local conditions has caused food prices to skyrocket in recent years.

According to experts, the supply bottleneck caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, adverse weather conditions due to climate change and the war in Ukraine, which has disrupted wheat production and exports in the region, are the main factors affecting food costs. The rising price of natural gas, which affects the cost of fertilizers and shipping goods, has also exacerbated the problem.

It is not easy to say whether food prices will continue to rise or fall soon, especially as food prices are a lagging measure of current conditions. This means that even though we had a bad drought this year, you won’t see the impact on prices until next year.

Economists already have a hard time predicting prices when everything is stable, and that’s not the case these days. Still, the outlook isn’t looking good, at least in the short term, according to Ortega.

Experts say prices will remain high in the coming months and perhaps next year. Even if the inflation rate starts to fall, this does not mean that food prices will fall or return to the levels they were before they rose. This fits with the USDA’s projection that food prices will remain above historical averages and increase another 3% to 4% in 2023.

“For us to start seeing these numbers drop, we’ll need to address some underlying factors,” Ortega said.

How to reduce the impact of rising food prices?

The US is facing an affordability crisis where everything from housing to healthcare is getting more expensive. The intersection of slow wage growth along with rising prices for basic necessities and services leaves most American budgets with little or no leeway.

There is no sure way to reduce daily food costs, but there are some things that can help reduce the impact of rising food prices on the household budget.

Still, there’s a lot you can do to save money at the grocery store. If you don’t have room for groceries in your budget, there are federal food programs and community resources you can take advantage of.

You can go to Feeding America to find a local food bank. Or if you want to find a local community fridge that provides free food, use this spreadsheet or this Fridge Finder map by Freedge. Full Cart, a virtual nonprofit food bank, will cover the cost of food and discreetly ship it directly to your front door. Anyone can sign up after answering a few questions, but there is a waiting list that can take several months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also runs a number of food aid programs, including SNAP benefits and child nutrition programs for which you may be eligible. Feeding America will help you fill out applications for some of these programs. Your local food bank, such as Greater Boston Food Bank, can also offer step-by-step help with SNAP applications. And if you’re a senior, you can qualify for Meals on Wheels, which will provide you with one meal each day for any amount you can contribute.

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