Tonight, Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1) were lead sponsors of a resolution addressing the Rhode Island Community Food Banks’ recently released annual Status Report on Hunger, which highlighted the significant hardship Rhode Islanders are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution is co-sponsored by President Pro Tempore Michael Correia (Ward 6), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Finance Chairman John J. Igliozzi Esq. (Ward 7), Councilwoman Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2) Councilman James Taylor (Ward 8), Councilwoman Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) and Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10).
The Rhode Island Community Food Banks’ annual Status Report on Hunger found that one in four Rhode Island households lack adequate food, which is the highest rate the agency has seen in over two decades. The report noted that food insecurity levels are highest in Black and Latinx communities, which are the very same communities that have been hardest hit by the global pandemic. Due to this overwhelming demand, the Community Food Banks has increased its food distribution by 1.6 million pounds (a 45% increase from before the pandemic).
“This is not just a Rhode Island problem,” stated Council President Sabina Matos. “What the COVID-19 pandemic has done in this Country is exacerbated the already demanding need for food not just in Rhode Island but in every state. It has also shone a light on the massive inequities in our society, where nearly 5.3 million more Americans are unemployed today than they were in February of this year. Rhode Island was not immune to that alarming statistic, which is why in the early days of the pandemic, I reached out to George Ortiz of The Elisha Project to work with the Council to help bring food to Providence’s most struggling communities. Through our partnership with the Elisha Project, the Council hosted 24 food distribution events across the City. We were able to provide approximately 816 thousand pounds of culturally appropriate nutritious meals or the equivalent of 680 thousand meals to our most vulnerable residents. We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ortiz for the work he is doing in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to address the food insecurity that too many families are facing.”
The resolution is calling on the Federal government to pass another COVID-19 relief bill that would bring back the supplemental unemployment compensation and boost SNAP benefits for individuals until the pandemic subsides. It also calls for the USDA to provide Pandemic-EBT benefits for all children from low-income families when schools are closed.
Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan stated, “This is an alarming statistic; if more than one in four people statewide are food insecure as stated in this recent report, we know the ratio is much higher in our urban core. The City Council initiative to provide immediate assistance to our struggling families is an admirable local level effort. However, we need a COVID Relief Bill passed in Washington without delay. While our federal delegation has been leading the charge in Washington, we need federal relief. The United States Senate has had the opportunity to pass the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act since May and has failed to do so. The stimulus package that my colleagues and I call for in this resolution will not just help those facing food insecurity, but will also address the nearly 20 million renters at risk of losing their homes. It has been eight months since the Senate and House passed the CARES Act, and it is time to put Country over party and pass the HEROES Act to protect our most vulnerable residents.”
Additionally, the resolution calls on the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services to implement a comprehensive SNAP outreach program to help newly unemployed Rhode Islanders enroll and gain access to these much-needed services.
“The RI Food Bank report also critically highlights that food insecure Rhode Islanders are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to prevalent underlying medical conditions,” stated Councilman John Goncalves. “Additionally, it makes clear the racial and ethnic disparities that exist related to food insecurity, and the fact that disabled adults also experience a higher risk for food insecurity due to healthcare-related expenses and limited employment opportunities which further exacerbate already existing health and economic disparities.
We are seeing record levels of demand from food-insecure Providence and Rhode Island residents, low-income families and children, which demonstrates that critical funding and assistance is needed now, more than ever, to address widespread hunger in our communities.”
The resolution also urges the Rhode Island General Assembly to support Governor Gina Raimondo’s call for increased funding for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris stated, “I know what it is to be hungry. I know what it is to decide between buying food for my family and paying the light bill. Our neighbors need help. We live in the land of plenty, but until we have plenty for all, we have plenty for none. I applaud the Elisha Project, the Rhode Island Food Bank, and the work that so many are doing in the City, the State, and across the nation to address food insecurity. But, as the poet Robert Frost so eloquently stated, we have miles to go before we sleep, and this is no time to sleep. Our neighbors here in Providence, and in every city and town in our state and across the country need help. I, like my colleagues, urge the United States Senate to pass the HEROES Act now before they end their session.”
The City Council passed the resolution, and copies of the resolution will be sent to each member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, Governor Gina Raimondo, Director Courtney Hawkins of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, and to the members of the Providence delegation of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
About the Elisha Project:
The Elisha Project is a movement that is focused on bringing diverse communities together through service, sharing, teaching, and learning. With the mission of addressing food insecurity and operating by the motto, “There is Always Enough to Share.”