Food pantries prepare for higher demand with food assistance programs at risk

NOW: Food pantries prepare for higher demand with food assistance programs at risk

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Food pantries are preparing to see an uptick in customers with the state at risk of losing millions for a program that helps feed low-income families. 

Wisconsin could lose nearly $50 million a month in federal food aid after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the mask mandate. States can only receive the additional federal funding for the FoodShare program if they enact a public health emergency. 

Those who rely on SNAP benefits could see their monthly payments drastically reduced. In some cases, dropping from $234 to $19 a month, according to Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force. 

“Many of those people are seniors, the recently unemployed people not back on their feet yet because they're still eligible for the FoodShare program, which means they are living in poverty,” said Tussler. 

More Wisconsinites are experiencing food hardship due to the pandemic and many, for the first time, have had to seek help in order to feed themselves or their families. 

“Once the pandemic hit and they lost their jobs they had no other alternative but to reach out to food pantries,” said George Neureuther, director of Interchange Food Pantry in Milwaukee. 

Food banks scrambled to keep up with demand once the coronavirus outbreak began, but once people started to receive stimulus checks from the federal government, Neureuther said guests started to dwindle. 

“We’ve seen a significant drop when the stimulus checks come out because it helps the community if those families survive,” said Neureuther. 

However, Neureuther and Tussler predict a decrease in demand won’t last long with the threat of cuts to FoodShare recipients. 

“What it means is an uptick in need for emergency food because people no longer go to the grocery store and shop for their own foods,” Tussler said. 

As of right now, lawmakers don’t have a plan to secure the funding and it will be at least a week until they are scheduled to return for session.  

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) told CBS 58 he believes the Legislature will act to make sure federal funding continues, but GOP leaders and other Republicans did not return requests for a comment. 

The funding at stake could cause Republicans to draft legislation to fix it, but as of right now there are no definite plans to do so. Democrats defended why they don’t have a plan either. 

“This was instigated by the Republicans,” said Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison). “They are the ones who filed this court case, and they have control of both chambers. We can fix this and why they didn’t start to move forward to fix this is really concerning.”

Earlier this year, Republicans approved a bill to secure the funding for SNAP benefits after they passed a resolution to end Evers' mask order. In doing so, they also added several other measures to the bill that the governor opposed, resulting in a veto.

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