Food bank preps for Alabama to exit federally funded COVID benefit programs

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Beginning Saturday, the state will no longer participate in all federal pandemic unemployment programs. Thousands of people who are currently receiving benefits will no longer be eligible.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, of the 80,000 people who received benefits last month, only 11-thousand of them would still qualify once Alabama ends its participation in federal pandemic unemployment compensation programs.

Unemployment rates are, however, have hit a low of 3.4% during the pandemic, a cut from last May’s rate of 7.9% when the pandemic was in full swing. Despite that, not all people are able to get back to work right now.

The Food Bank of North Alabama is preparing outreach plans in anticipation of an increase in clients who used a good bit of the hundreds of benefit dollars to buy their own groceries over the past year.

“We always want to be there whenever people need us and we’ve just been trying to prepare for it,” Food Bank of North Alabama Executive Director Shirley Schofield said. “It was really very helpful to keep a lot of those families going. We know now that that’s ending, a lot of people haven’t been able to go back full time to work, they haven’t had their jobs restored fully, so there’s still going to be a lot of need out there.”

Schofield says it has been a year of ebb and flow feeding crowds during the pandemic, the flow greatly impacted once people started receiving benefits and using that money to get by.

“What it meant is that we were able to move where we needed to go to different areas,” Schofield said. “With the unemployment benefits ending, those additional benefits ending, it’s definitely going to have an impact on where we’re going next.”

She added in addition to stocking up on extra food, they’re increasing their number of mobile pantries, targeting areas where they saw the most need before COVID aid came into play.

Schofield estimates there will be an influx in more than just those who lost benefits. With schools out for summer, Schofield says they’re prepping for a busy season overall.

“There are some communities that have summer meals, and we certainly participate in that, but we also want to make sure some of the places that aren’t having summer meals, we’re actually going and almost creating mobile pantries there,” Schofield said.

She added some of their community partners fell on hard times during the pandemic and have become unable to help the Food Bank, and they are actively looking for new community partners to help them in their mission to end hunger in the 11 counties they serve.

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