A substantial $103 million budget increase to the Dane County 2024 budget was proposed on Oct. 2nd. Almost $11 million worth of it will be funneled directly toward food insecurity programs and local food bank expansions. The proposed increase in funding comes as a result of factors that have plagued every citizen: exorbitant inflation on necessities and a long-lasting pandemic that slowed down the economy.
Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offered emergency allotments during the pandemic as relief for families. It’s estimated that these funds kept over four million people above the poverty line in 2021, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Properties. However, these SNAP benefits have been cut off since February of 2023, and food banks’ need for assistance is even more prevalent. More than 63,000 people received benefits in Dane County in 2022, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and a staggering amount of people will be affected by these expirations.
While price inflation stabilized in September, the overall consumer price index has increased by 3.7% over the past year, forcing Americans to leave the grocery store with fewer items for the same total bill.
Inflation might feel overwhelming now, but it pales in comparison to the index felt during the pandemic, with a peak of 9.1% in June of 2022. This $11 million increase will surely bring needed relief to those still reeling from the unprecedented costs of living as a result of inflation.
In addition to inflated prices, overall food insecurity in family households in Wisconsin reached its peak in October 2020 at 15%. While it declined in 2021 as the pandemic slowed, it rose again in the spring of 2022 to 13%, nearly an identical percentage to when the pandemic was at its worst.
Over half of the proposed $11 million will go toward Dane County’s Farm to Foodbank, a program born during the pandemic as a system of relief for families who most felt its effects. More than 50 local farmers participate in this program, having served approximately 3.8 million meals in 2022. This $6 million allocation in the Dane County budget would benefit consumers and local farmers who continue to help put food on the table, feeding the local economy as a whole.
Almost half a million dollars will be going straight to Madison’s Extended Hands Pantry, a Dane County organization that emphasizes serving culturally appropriate food and offers tutoring services with a mission statement of “feeding body and soul.” This food pantry provides for any and all residents of the Dane County community while also recognizing the lack of literacy in minority communities. Since this directly affects the education system in Madison, the funding will substantially increase the distribution of food and teaching, hopefully increasing overall literacy and community participation.
There was an 80% increase in demand at Madison’s Extended Hands Pantry this past year, according to co-founder Jenny Czerkas. In light of this substantial increase, it becomes clear why there is a proposal to increase funding for these programs through the Dane County area.
Additionally, the housing crisis afflicting the Madison community is certainly a factor in the food insecurity issue.
While it predominantly affects university students, the food insecurity crisis bleeds out into all of Madison, with landlords raising rents to a level low-income students struggle to afford. That leaves students scrambling to cut costs wherever necessary in order to live near campus and attend the university. With total enrollment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at a record high of 50,662 students this year, according to a university press release, the potential need for cheaper housing and cost of living is more needed than ever before.
Overall, with increasing inflation prices and a halt on pandemic benefits, food banks supporting local communities like Madison deserve a hefty slice of the nearly $1 billion proposed budget for Dane County.
Kate is a sophomore studying journalism. Do you believe the increased budget for food insecurity funding is enough to benefit the community? Send all comments to email@example.com.