HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Local food banks and nonprofits are seeing a major spike in people who need help, but what might be behind this sudden rise?
Downtown Daily Bread (DDB) in Harrisburg has seen what it calls a shocking number of new clients, but some state officials say they are not surprised people are struggling.
“We’re like, ‘What is happening?'” Executive Director Corrie Lingenfelter said.
Lingenfelter is no stranger to need in her community.
“Our biggest thing too right now is hunger, like inflation is crazy,” she said.
As executive director of Downtown Daily Bread, she sees it every day, but the last couple months have been a shock.
“It’s been 75 to 110 people in three weeks to four weeks time,” she said.
That number is just new people who need help, who have never been to DDB. Some of them, Lingenfelter said, are not even local.
“It’s just that sad spot for me too where it’s like wow, what are we going to do when it’s 200 new people?” she said.
Many of DDB’s usual clients are homeless, but Lingenfelter said many of the new clients do not fit that bill.
“A lot of our requests as of recently are to prevent homelessness,” she said, giving an example, “We cannot make it meet for our next check, can we get some grocery vouchers or can we get groceries?”
For some officials, this spike is not unexpected.
“It comes as no surprise that families who had been combating poverty on their own with some supports pre-pandemic are continuing to struggle,” said Hoa Pham, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Income Maintenance at the Department of Human Services.
Pham said pandemic-era support was a huge help for families, really making a dent in poverty rates.
“Stimulus payments, expanded unemployment compensation, expanded child tax credits” all helped, she said, plus expansions in SNAP and Medicaid coverage. However, all of those programs have since ended.
“We know that the need for food assistance programs has grown since those emergency allotments ended. SNAP has been the first line of defense for hunger in communities across the Commonwealth,” Pham said.
Many people also rely on more than one support, making it harder when multiple expansions end.
“Of about 3.5 million Pennsylvanians receiving Medicaid, the vast majority of them also qualify and are receiving SNAP,” Pham said.
On top of that, Pham cited the increase in cost of living as an added strain.
“Housing costs, utility costs, income, for instance,” she said. “Other items, I think, coming to mind would be, you know, how much does a carton of eggs cost?”
With the need growing, Pham and Lingenfelter say community support is crucial.
“Donate please, we have, that’s 100 new people we need to feed, that’s 100 new people that need an ID, that need a resource, bus cards, laundry,” Lingenfelter said.
Pham added, “Your support really goes a long way in keeping their life-saving work operational for the people who need them.”
Pham said the Shapiro administration is advocating for expanded SNAP benefits from the federal government, and she urges families to keep applying and provide the most updated income information to get as much help as possible.
For more information on applying for benefits, visit DHS’s website. People can also get more information and help by applying at their local county assistance offices or calling DHS’s Customer Service Center at (877) 395-8930 (for residents of Philadelphia, call 215-560-7726).