Food banks getting boost from state
RALEIGH — North Carolina food banks are getting $2.75 million soon from the state, Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Monday. The move comes as local and regional pantries have faced increased demand because of high unemployment and government assistance delays.
McCrory, a Republican, announced the state was releasing early $750,000 to seven regional food banks to help them stock their shelves. Cooper, a Democrat, put out his own news release later that his agency was sending $2 million collected from legal settlements to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which will distribute grants statewide.
McCrory's office said the $750,000 — part of $3 million the General Assembly approved for food banks this fiscal year — was being released early to help food banks handle higher demand caused in part by the partial federal government shutdown.
The state Department of Health and Human Services suspended a federally funded program offering food vouchers for poor women and their young children for two days last week before the agency announced it had located additional funds for a few more weeks.
On Monday, the state's Work First welfare program stopped taking applications or recertifying participants, DHHS said, which could lead to financial hardships if the shutdown extends into November. About a quarter of the 100 counties also have stopped or scaled back distributing child care subsidies, which includes federal dollars, the governor's office said.
"Federal services are not political chess pieces. Real people are being impacted in very real ways," McCrory said in a prepared statement after visiting a Charlotte food bank Monday morning. "The political brinkmanship must end."
Christy Simmons, a spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said she's unaware of negative effects caused by the shutdown to food banks so far but said they could come Nov. 1. Simmons said assistance requests at her food bank are 12 percent higher compared to last year.
She attributed the increase to the rollback in unemployment benefits in July — happening after legislators this year agreed on how to pay down more quickly $2.5 billion in debt owed the federal government for benefits — and to delayed food stamp applications as a new service eligibility computer system expanded.
North Carolina's unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in August remains one of the highest in the country.
"We have been readying ourselves for any increase in service after October," said Simmons, whose food bank supplies more than 800 rescue missions, soup kitchens and nutrition programs that distribute food to more than 560,000 people. "We're not going to focus on the politics behind the decision. We're just trying to feed people. We're grateful for the funds."
Simmons said food banks could face shortfalls at the end of the state's fiscal year — next summer — if money is spent early to face increased demand.
The $2 million from the state Department of Justice comes from food and pharmaceutical consumer settlements reached by Cooper's office. The agency has distributed smaller amounts to food banks in previous years.
"Food banks are a lifeline for many people in our state and they need our support," Cooper said in a news release.
Cooper said in an interview over the weekend that his office had been working with McCrory and the state budget office on how to use settlement funds for food banks. Cooper has recently started talking publicly about running for governor in 2016, when McCrory will be up for re-election. McCrory's new release mentioned briefly Cooper's $2 million for the food banks.