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Kansas City Food Banks Expect Long Lines As Missourians Lose Extra Jobless Benefits

Jo Hickey, food pantry manager at Jewish Family Services, says food is the number one thing people think about when they have to make decisions about where to spend money.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jo Hickey, Food Pantry Manager at Jewish Family Services, says food is the number one thing people think about when they have to make decisions about where to spend money, but it's not the only challenge they face.

Gov. Mike Parson stopped all federal pandemic-related unemployment programs, effective June 12, in the hopes of incentivizing people to return to the workforce.

Food banks in Kansas City find themselves bracing for another surge of demand from people cut off from supplemental federal unemployment benefits.

Missouri sits among several GOP-led states cutting ties with all federal pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs ahead of schedule. That means that jobless workers in Missouri will soon get $300 a week less in unemployment benefits.

That loss of money, said Ruth Wilson at Unity Southeast Kansas City’s food pantry, means more people will have trouble affording food.

“We'll see an increase,” said Ruth Wilson at Unity Southeast Kansas City’s food pantry. “We'll see an increase in our mobile food events. We'll probably see an increase in the families that will be reaching out to us each week for food.”

Gov. Mike Parson directed the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to stop the larger jobless checks on Saturday. Like other Republican governors, he's said the beefier unemployment checks have discouraged people from returning to work and slowed the economic recovery from the pandemic shutdown.

Those benefits were originally scheduled to end on Sept. 6.

“While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary,” Parson said. “And their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing. It's time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.”

Yet Sarah Biles at Harvesters Food Network said people are not simply going to return to work because the supplemental payments will stop.

“There are still a fair amount of people that haven't been vaccinated," Biles said. "They may not feel safe going back to some of those jobs that are out there, like service industry jobs.”

She also cited the time of the year that young people are out of school and will be looking for meals, and parents will also be making decisions about whether or not to stay home with their children.

“We would assume there would be increased need,” said Jo Hickey, the Food Pantry Directory at Jewish Family Services. “It could be food pantry as well as increased need for rent and utility assistance.”

She said people who are out of work are also forced to make decisions about other things to pay for besides food, like mental health services and other services offered by her agency.

Jewish Family Services saw demand for its services basically double last year because of the pandemic.

And Hickey said there are many circumstances for a variety of people that will continue to bring them to the food banks, even if they find work.

“Food is the first thing that people think about,” she said. “Food is a basic right and a basic need.”

But food is not the only problem people will have to conquer when these supplemental funds run out.

“The biggest challenge for many of these families who are losing that benefit will be child care," Hickey said. "How can you return to work without adequate child care? So that’ll be an interesting piece as well.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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