Home Media News Releases 2020 COVID-19 Permanent Policy Measures Needed

COVID-19 Permanent Policy Measures Needed

Food banks in larger urban areas were more likely to see increased demand due to COVID-19 related job losses; local food banks make unprecedented changes in service models to accommodate those in need
 
TORONTO, Dec. 2nd, 2020 /CNW/ - Despite unemployment skyrocketing in the first three months of the pandemic, social policy temporarily helped mitigate a higher rate of demand at food banks that might have otherwise occurred. A new report by Food Banks Canada, Food Banks and COVID-19 – A National Snapshot, surveyed nearly 1,000 food banks across Canada and found that government supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and increases to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) were seen to have the most significant impact in helping to flatten the curve of food bank use during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.

Even with unprecedented income security supports, though, many people still fell through the cracks requiring help from their local food bank, which faced significant challenges procuring food and adapting services due to the pandemic. Looking forward, food banks are wary and anxious about the possibility of demand surges as temporary government supports wind down. Prior to the pandemic there were already 1.1 million food bank visits per month in Canada, and many were operating at the limits of their capacity.

"Despite new social policy initiatives, many food banks were left struggling with increased client need, especially in larger urban centres, at the same time as having to adapt operations to comply with fast-changing regulations," explained Kirstin Beardsley, Chief Network Services Officer at Food Banks Canada. "Our biggest concern now is what will happen as we see more job losses in at-risk industries. These cities could be facing a ticking time bomb."

Urban centres with populations of 100K or more and areas with large workforces in the hardest hit industries see greatest increase in demand.

Food banks located in areas that employ large numbers of people in sectors hit especially hard by the pandemic, such as tourism, transportation or hospitality, were more likely to have seen an increase throughout this period. In fact, 87 per cent of food banks that experienced increased use attributed this to COVID-19-related job losses.

Certain demographic groups were more likely to have fallen through the cracks. Food bank use by single person households, for example, soared 36 percent from February 2020 to June. With CERB no longer in effect, and if job recoveries and provincial social assistance rates remain stagnant—rates that already fall well below Canada's official poverty line— food banks will be challenged in supporting long-term need by this group. It is vital that new permanent income supports and other social policies be put into place so that Canadians can make ends meet.
 
Policy recommendation: In coordination with the provinces and territories, fund and develop multiple Minimum Income Floor pilot projects of various types across the country (in rural and urban communities). Make single, low-income adults a priority consideration to ensure that this vulnerable population is no longer left behind. In the short term, make the temporary Employment Insurance program a permanent program to reduce uncertainty in the lives of workers already affected by the pandemic and in the difficult years of recovery ahead.
Low-income renters more likely to struggle with housing costs during the pandemic, particularly in larger urban centres.
 
Prior to the pandemic, food banks had already been reporting the high cost of housing as one of the main reasons why people turn to food banks for support. In 2019, 70 per cent of all food bank clients lived in private rental market housing.

Research has shown that those who rent rather than own have fewer household assets to help buffer against sudden economic shocks that increase the likelihood of experiencing food insecurity. In each province before the pandemic, the lowest income group was paying well over 50 per cent of their income for the cost of rent and utilities, which is considered a crisis level, leaving little for other basic needs such as food and putting them at greater risk of homelessness. The pandemic only served to exacerbate this housing instability for renters who lost their jobs; benefits like CERB were not enough to fully cover rent and food. A study by Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto found that the percentage of food bank clients facing deep housing unaffordability rose from 67 per cent to 81 per cent during the pandemic. Additionally, in a recent report released by Feed Ontario found that one in two food bank clients are worried about facing eviction or defaulting on their mortgage in the next two to six months.
 
Policy recommendation: Immediately implement a national rent support program based on an expanded version of the Canada Housing Benefit so that Canadians struggling to afford their rent can have support as the rest of the National Housing Strategy takes effect. Further, significantly increase the amount that the federal government plans to invest in the previously announced Canada Housing Benefit so that all low-income people become eligible for the benefit (remove any cap limit on how many eligible citizens can apply).
Concerns abound that a lack of affordable childcare will keep women out of work post-pandemic.

The lack of affordable childcare has been a driver of food bank use for years and the pandemic has only intensified that. In Toronto in 2018, the average childcare costs per child was above $20,000 per year and most cities across the country are similarly expensive, even in provinces with subsidized daycare plans. The economic ramifications of the pandemic have been especially difficult for women. During the first six months, women's participation in the Canadian workforce fell to 55 per cent, a level not seen since the mid 1980's. Canada needs a system that will help these women get back into work.
 
Policy recommendation: Fast track the government's commitment to develop a national early learning and childcare system. The plan should include a significant increase in current federal investment levels towards early learning and childcare, and set measurable targets and goals that increase the amount of accessible, affordable and publicly-funded quality childcare in every province and territory in Canada within a 6 month timeframe to reflect the urgency of the situation.
Food banks able to innovate and quickly adapt to the rapidly changing needs of their communities and engage their local connections throughout the pandemic.

Creativity, practical innovation and a lot of elbow grease is how food bankers have been adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis. Many of the nearly 3,000 food banks and community agencies that Food Banks Canada supports faced significant challenges as they worked to provide their clients with essential services; challenges like having to modify operations for evolving social distancing needs, drastic reductions in volunteers and staff as well as a 50 per cent drop in food donations in some markets at the onset of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, nearly 50 per cent of food banks provided food support to an emergency program outside of agencies they usually support or share food with, such as school programs, social housing units, social services agencies and neighbouring food banks. The most significant adjustment made to food bank services was the introduction of home delivery; nearly 70 percent of those surveyed initiated a home delivery service in order to better serve those facing greater health risks during the pandemic, such as seniors and people with disabilities.

Other lesser known changes include:
  • Building upon relationships with suppliers, municipalities and public health: In Alberta, the City of Leduc loaned their drivers to the food bank for deliveries while in Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, the food bank worked with local public health to identify food insecure populations and were further assisted by the public health unit to deliver hampers.
  • Forming new partnerships to help prepare for a rise in demand: Many businesses—especially restaurants—had to brace for a decline in business, but they were also some of the first to help food banks across the country, loaning food banks freezer space, storage space and vehicles for delivery, while also providing essential PPE.
  • Expanding services to reach more in need: Food banks shifted to serve special needs groups like homeless populations, students that relied on school meal programs but were now without due to mandatory school closures as well as seniors requiring home deliveries.
About Food Banks and COVID-19 – A National Snapshot
Food Banks and COVID-19 – A National Snapshot is the only national research study of food banks and other food programs in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data for the report was collected via survey of 1,000 food banks and community agencies across Canada from June until August 2020. For the full report visit: https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/COVID-Report-2020

About Food Banks Canada

Food Banks Canada provides national leadership to relieve hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow in collaboration with the food bank network from coast-to-coast-to-coast. For 40 years, food banks have been dedicated to helping Canadians living with food insecurity. Over 3,000 food banks and community agencies come together to serve our most vulnerable neighbours who – last year – made 1.1 million visits to these organizations in one month alone, according to our HungerCount report. Over the past 10 years, as a system we've sourced and shared over 1.4 billion pounds of food and Food Banks Canada shared nearly $70 million in funding to help maximize collective impact and strengthen local capacity – while advocating for reducing the need for food banks. Our vision is clear: create a Canada where no one goes hungry. Visit http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/ to learn more.

For interview requests or for more information, contact: Danielle Lalonde, Danielle@foodbankscanada.ca.

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