Food banks prepare for crush if federal emergency Foodshare benefits end in July

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Federal emergency Foodshare benefits could end in July. The emergency, declared at the start of the pandemic, allowed eligible families to get the maximum benefits for groceries.

Without the funding, as food costs increase, budgets are even more strained.

“Everyone is struggling. Not just those who are low income. But if you’re low income, at this point things are just becoming more difficult,” said Shelly Fortner, executive director for La Crosse’s Hunger Task Force.

Foodshare helps ease meal expenses for more than 10,000 people in La Crosse County. The federally funded program can be a lifeline for low-income families.

Nearly 1,700 more families joined the county’s program since the pandemic began. That is a big jump, said Lorie Graff, the county’s economic support manager.

“The recipients are up over 30% statewide since 2019,” Graff said.

In April 2020, the federal government declared an emergency amid COVID-19, which allowed programs like Foodshare to pay people the maximum monthly benefit amount.

A single person is allotted $250 a month under the emergency, while a family of three gets $658. The program has been continually extended over the past two years.

“Everyone is getting the maximum allotment for their household size, so it is a significant difference,” Graff said.

When funding expires in July, it could mean about $1.5 million fewer dollars helping feed people in La Crosse County alone. Without the funding, local agencies will have to make up the difference.

“If the members’ Foodshare benefits is going down, the demand for food pantries is going to go up,” Graff said.

At Hunger Task Force, Fortner said they are well-equipped.

“We’re going to see, again, another uptick in folks needing that extra food,” Fortner said. “The badger boxes will be coming from the state of Wisconsin — the Hunger Task Force will be distributing them through the end of the year.

Graff said the county will learn mid-May if emergency benefits will stop in July. She encourages members of the Foodshare program to stay aware and make a plan.

The Hunger Task Force, which helps feed the community with donations, always needs donations and volunteers, Fortner said. You can find more information on its website.

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