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'1 in 3' people could face food insecurity as peak unemployment looms

Parker Miles Blohm
A member of the Washington National Guard helps pack emergency food boxes at Northwest Harvest in April.

Washington has faced and met unprecedented demand for food assistance. The economic crisis brought on by the new coronavirus caused the number of people in Washington seeking food assistance to double overnight, starting in early March.

It’s now almost 2 million, according to a new report from the state’s largest independent hunger relief agency, Northwest Harvest.

The report warns that more layoffs are expected. The peak unemployment rate still looms. It’s expected to hit sometime between August and December. And more relief will be needed.  

Northwest Harvest expects as many as 2.2 million people in Washington to be at risk of going hungry — representing a huge portion of all households.

“It would be 1 in 3 if some of the worst-case scenarios occur,” says Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds. “It would be 1 in 3.”  

Worst cases include things like an end to supplemental unemployment benefits or charitable donations drying up. It’s hard to predict all the factors that could come together at once, but there’s potential for a real crisis.

Northwest Harvest says its research is a rapid assessment tool that can be adjusted as more data comes in.

“It gives us time to flatten the curve of hunger. And we can address the looming food insecurity peak that’s coming later this year, if we act soon,” Reynolds says.  

Topping the list of priorities is an expansion of the federal cash benefit food assistance program SNAP. Advocates say it addresses hunger and boosts the economy simultaneously.  

U.S Representative Kim Schrier, (D-Issaquah), joined Reynolds and Washington State Department of Agriculture director Derek Sandison for a virtual press conference to announce the report. She says she is working to expand federal food stamp assistance to help meet the need.

“We absolutely must increase the SNAP benefit levels — by at least fifteen percent. And we put that in The Heroes Act last week. We also need to increase the minimum SNAP benefit to $30 a month, also in The Heroes Act. And to increase funding to our state so that they can properly administer these programs,” Schrier said.

The Heroes Act is a coronavirus aid package that passed the House on May 15, but has stalled before the senate.

Following the press conference, the report was submitted to Governor Jay Inslee’s office and to the WSDA’s Food Security Coordination Team.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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