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Monday, January 6, 2014 - 12:21pm

Food Banks Feel Extended Unemployment Benefits Cut

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to hold a test vote Tuesday on a bill to extend benefits for the long term unemployed. The procedural vote had been scheduled for Monday afternoon, but was moved to ensure Senators facing travel delays due to the weather would be able to vote. U.S. Senator Jack Reed is proposing to extend benefits until the end of March while Congress deals with the more than $20 billion annual cost of those benefits. Georgia Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson oppose the plan, saying it would add to the country’s deficit.

But Bill Bolling, Executive Director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said food pantry workers are worried that if the bill isn’t passed, Georgia’s already struggling food banks will see an immediate increase in demand.

“We have a lot of folks in Georgia who maybe five years ago had a good paying job making 60 or 70 thousand dollars who lost them and are now they’re making 25 to 30 thousand dollars,” said Bolling. “There’s a whole new reality.”

Demand at the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank had started to level off at the end of 2013 as unemployment levels dropped. But Executive Director Ronald Raleigh believes demand will increase in the first quarter of this year if long-term unemployment benefits aren’t restored.

“We will probably experience a ten percent increase over the preceding year as far as total distribution,” said Raleigh.

Georgia’s jobless rate has been going down, but Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Banks Association, said nearly half of people who depend on food pantries are working.

“There are a lot of folks who are under-employed. There are a lot of folks who have someone employed in the family household full-time, making minimum wage, and still not making ends meet, added Craft.”

In northern Georgia, food banks have seen a 125 percent increase in demand since 2010. And Craft says many families are requiring help for the first time.