Jun 8, 2023 - Politics

Food bank faces dilemma amid proposed budget cuts

Photo of London Breed speak from a podium

Mayor London Breed speaks at a news conference at the San Francisco Police Department on April 13. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The main food bank in San Francisco is grappling with how it will continue to meet current needs, with Mayor London Breed proposing cuts to city programs after the expiration of emergency COVID-19 aid.

Why it matters: 1 in 4 people who live in the city is at risk of hunger, according to the San Francisco Department of Health. Though the pandemic may be fading from the public consciousness, its impact on financial need — especially amid record-high inflation — hasn't lessened.

  • 76% of San Francisco-Marin Food Bank participants whose households experienced job loss or earned less money because of COVID said they had not recovered from the financial loss, a January report found.

Context: Food banks all across the country have had to brace for possible increases in need since federal emergency allotments ended on May 11.

  • With CalFresh food benefits no longer cushioned by COVID aid, the average household in San Francisco and Marin lost between $150-160 per month, per estimates from the SF-Marin Food Bank, a storehouse of fresh produce that works with over 350 community partners to distribute roughly a million meals every week.
  • Many of the 100,000 people impacted by the cut reverted to receiving as little as $23 per month, a dollar amount that's largely impossible to live on in the Bay Area these days.

State of play: Breed dealt another blow when she announced a variety of cuts in her budget proposal.

  • It would slash funding for all citywide grocery programs by 33% to $20 million for the fiscal year 2024 before reducing it to $10 million for the fiscal year 2025, SF-Marin Food Bank executive director Tanis Crosby wrote in an email to employees last week.
  • The food bank itself would also see COVID-era funding for its grocery access program drop over time from $10 million this fiscal year to zero for 2025. The mayor’s office has said the organization would still receive a projected $4.6 million in 2024 and $4 million in 2025 from local funding sources, similar to the $4 million local funding allocated to the food bank annually prior to the pandemic.
  • Local service providers have emphasized that Breed's proposal will cause lasting damage and urged the Board of Supervisors to reject it.
  • Breed's office has responded by maintaining that her proposal is a balanced attempt to close an expected $780 million deficit and that it would still invest $40 million in food security resources over the next two years.

What they're saying: SF-Marin Food Bank is keen to work with elected officials to find a solution for the "economic recovery that we all need" but emphasized that it won't happen "without a strong safety net," Crosby said.

  • The organization and its network of partners serve 72% more people than pre-pandemic levels — and now spend five times more on food, according to Crosby.
  • "Let’s start with making sure that basic needs are not eroding," she added.

Of note: The city's Food Security Task Force itself wrote in its 2022 recommendations report that San Francisco must commit to "long-term, institutionalized funding" for food and distribution.

What's next: Supervisors will hold hearings to discuss the budget this month; they must approve it in time for Breed to sign it by Aug. 1.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that it is SF-Marin Food Bank’s COVID-related funding (not all funding) that will drop to zero by 2025, and that it is grappling with how to meet current needs (not with continuing services). More details on projected funding have also been added throughout.

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