The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is reporting a 12 percent increase in the number of clients at food pantries last year.
Beth Gaglione is the Wilmington Branch Director at the food bank. She said that new food stamp guidelines in 2016 could have been a factor in the increased need.
In early 2016, federal guidelines required adults under 50 with no dependents to prove they work, volunteer, or are enrolled in a federally-approved jobs training program for at least 20 hours a week to keep their benefits.
“There is a possibility that the two are linked and we are seeing fewer people on food stamps as a result of the work requirement,” Gaglione said. She added that they can't say for sure that it caused the spike in need.
According to Gaglione, the requirements impacted 35,000 people in North Carolina. She said the food bank concentrates on two vulnerable populations, those in rural communities, and people who may not be aware of the requirements when relocating from out of state.
“Some of them feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them because they did not realize that the requirement was in place because it is fairly new,” Gaglione said.
She stressed that volunteer hours count toward the work requirement for anyone still getting back on their feet.
"If they’re interested in connecting with one of our partner agencies that are distributing food several times a week, volunteering those hours at a food pantry does count,” she said.
Gaglione said the food bank has also created a new department for community engagement, job training and employment opportunities.
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