The 2017 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island is out on Monday. It's an annual report from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Food Bank, discussed the findings of the report with RIPR's Chuck Hinman. According to Schiff, the report highlights a continuing hunger problem in the state.
Hunger and poverty have a hold on Rhode Island, despite an improving economy and falling unemployment since the Great Recession a decade ago. That’s one of the findings in the 2017 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island, released Monday by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Food Bank, says numbers from the Department of Agriculture show the stubbornness of the problem in the Ocean State.
"High rates of hunger and poverty persist in Rhode Island," says Schiff. "According to USDA, there are just two states that have seen a significant increase in the prevalence of hunger since 2011: Louisiana and Rhode Island."
Schiff says the improved job market still favors low-wage jobs. "The Rhode Island economy has just not produced enough jobs with the type of wages that are going to move people out of poverty and into the middle class," he says. The report cites census data that show Rhode Island has the highest rate of poverty in New England.
Compounding the problem for Rhode Island are the continuing defects in the state’s new computerized benefits system, UHIP (Unified Health Infrastructure Project). Thousands of applicants for food assistance have had their applications for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) lost or delayed, and Schiff says that has had an impact on the Food Bank.
"Our member agencies, food pantries and meal programs across the state are reporting to us that they’re seeing lots of new people," says Schiff. "Having lost SNAP benefits, they now have to go for emergency food assistance."
The report urges Governor Raimondo to repair the computer system and restore SNAP benefits to eligible families. It also recommends a boost in the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. And it warns that proposed cuts in the federal budget to food assistance programs, if enacted, would make the problem even worse.