Food banks ask Indiana for a budget increase after pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS – The fight to increase state funding for food banks is not over even though multiple attempts have failed so far.

Indiana has budgeted $300,000 for food banks every year since 2009. Indiana food banks claim it’s not enough in a normal year but in a pandemic enough is hard to wrap your head around.

Feeding Indiana’s Hungry is asking for $1.5 million for this two-year budget. Executive Director Emily Weikert Bryant said it won’t cover the need, but it would help.

“They distributed 60 percent more food itself in 2020 than they did over 2019,” said Bryant.

Midwest Food Bank typically feeds 90,000 each month in a normal year but in 2020 Midwest saw a 30 percent increase.

“I don’t see it really turning around until people feel more comfortable with where we are at and the immunization continues to move forward,” said Midwest Executive Director John Whitaker.

Democratic State Rep. Cherrish Pryor proposed an amendment to grant $500,000 in 2022 and $400,000 in 2023 to food banks.

“People turn to food banks when they’re in need, but who do food banks turn to when they’re in need? They turn to us, and we need to answer their call,” Pryor said. “This pandemic has unquestionably impacted Hoosiers on a foundational level, and food banks are an avenue to help many individuals at the same time.”

In a press release, Pryor said instability and unemployment due to the pandemic have increased food insecurity by an estimated 40%. Gleaners Food Bank, which serves 21 counties, meal distribution increased by 107% this past year. Across the state, food banks, community kitchens and food pantries have experienced a 154% increase in visits from Hoosiers needing access to food.

“I just wish that I could convince people to support this amendment because the need is so great,” said Pryor. “We are talking about people not being able to eat.”

Republican State Rep. Christopher Judy asked lawmakers to vote it down so he can work on a smaller compromised amount later.

“$300,000 to $1.5 million is quite a big jump but I’d like to see something as this bill moves on through the senate,” said Rep. Judy.

Pryor said the state would have given that to businesses in the blink of an eye.

“But we can’t fund food banks so the people can eat,” said Pryor. “That to me is just a sin.”

Midwest Food Bank doesn’t receive any funds from the state’s $300,000 food bank budget. That money goes to those who are affiliated with Feeding America because it is regulated by the state.

However, Midwest still benefitted from other state resources during the pandemic such as National Guard volunteer assistance and personal protective gear.

“I just think it’s really important not to show the state as the bad guys because they are not,” said Whitaker. “I think they are struggling like everyone else is through this pandemic.”

Bryant said Indiana did provide great resources to food banks during COVID-19 but would appreciate any kind of increase moving forward.

“We are looking to have just a little bit extra capacity support coming from the state,” said Bryant.

Our Kayla Sullivan asked Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray his thoughts on including a budget increase for food banks.

Bray said it was a worthy goal to be part of the conversation the Senate will have but said he doesn’t think they will increase it to $1.5 million.

“While it was a positive forecast, it doesn’t allow for a lot of new spending,” said Bray. “It’s a balancing act but that certainly is a very important piece.”

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