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Prairies led increase in food bank use

Alberta saw a 23 per cent increase in food bank use due to the economic downturn

Visits to food banks across Canada have increased again this year with Alberta recording the biggest increase because of job losses in the oil and gas industry, reports Food Banks Canada.

During March, 852,137 people, more than a third children, showed up at Canadian food banks, an increase of 1.3 per cent over the same month of 2014, Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, told a news conference. “That’s the equivalent of 6,000 school buses full of hungry kids.”

Promises by the Liberal government of increased social housing are encouraging, she added. “Every single person who comes to a food bank talks about the high cost of housing. Too many face the tough decision between paying rent and buying food.”

Alberta reported a 23 per cent increase in food bank use this past March compared to a year earlier. The Northwest Territories was next with a 9.1 per cent increase. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Ontario recorded small decreases in visits. Nationally, there were “175,000 more people each month seeking assistance, compared to 2008,” she said. That year was the low point in food bank dependence in the last 15 years.

“The underlying issue that has kept food bank use so high for so long is the fact that millions of Canadians are trying to make ends meet with incomes that fall far below what is needed to afford the basic cost of living,” she said.

For that reason, Food Banks Canada wants Ottawa to expand affordable housing, replace inadequate provincial assistance programs with a basic national income, offer more skills training and deal with food insecurity in the North.

“We are pleased to see that Prime Minister Trudeau has a plan that closely mirrors the recommendations we have made in successive reports,” Schmidt added. “This gives us hope and a belief that there will be action at the federal level (that will) significantly reduce the need for food banks in Canada.”

About half the people visiting food banks are on provincial assistance programs, she noted. The reality is that “government-managed income benefits are inadequate to support individuals and families who have fallen on hard times; a job does not always guarantee food security; and safe, quality housing is too often unaffordable.”

She added that her organization will request the federal government implement a tax credit to farmers and food companies that donate safe food that would otherwise go to landfills because it has passed ‘best-before dates.’

Studies have estimated that as much as 40 per cent of the food produced in Canada is never consumed by people.

There are 4,349 organizations across Canada that provide food or meals. About half are in Ontario and Quebec followed by Alberta and British Columbia.

“In addition to the assistance provided by food banks, Canadian meal programs also served 4,395,601 meals and snacks to a broad population via soup kitchens, shelters, school breakfast programs and other initiatives,” the Food Banks report said.

Almost 20 per cent of those seeking help live in small towns and rural areas, which was 6.3 per cent higher than in 2014; 57 per cent of rural food banks reported increases in the number of people accessing their services. That rose to three-quarters in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Schmidt said single people need a basic income of $18,000 a year while a family of four needs at least $36,000 per year “to afford the most basic standard of living in Canada.”

Nearly two million seniors live on $17,000 per year while four million Canadians work in minimum wage sales and service occupations. More than 780,000 people receive disability-related income supports through provincial social assistance programs — which provide an average income of $10,801 per year. More than one million people in Canada receive social assistance, which works out to an average of $8,035 per year for a single person and $23,783 per year for a family of four. “Millions of Canadians are trying to make ends meet with incomes that fall far below what is necessary to afford even the most basic cost of living.”

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