OLYMPIA -- Cuts to state-funded food assistance will drive more families to food banks in the Tri-Cities, said a food bank official.
John Neill, executive director for the Tri-Cities Food Bank, told the Herald he attributes the recent increase in need for food assistance to layoffs, scarce jobs and rising gas prices, rent and tuition.
"There are so many factors influencing the number of people we're seeing," he said.
And now lawmakers could add to the list by eliminating the state-funded Food Assistance Program in July, through a budget proposal written by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.
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In Benton and Franklin counties, 350 households received state-funded food assistance for February, said Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Spears told the Herald the state-funded program provides food aid to legal immigrants who do not qualify for federal assistance. Many households receive a combination of federal and state food aid because individuals in a household can meet different qualifications, she said.
The number of households receiving state food assistance is small compared to the 500,000 Washington households receiving federal food assistance monthly, according to a DSHS report.
But any cut to food aid programs will bring more hungry families to food banks that already are struggling to keep up on supplies, Neill said.
The Tri-Cities Food Bank is spending more cash donations to purchase food than usual, he said. That has Neill worried about long-term sustainability.
"We're deeply concerned, but not panicking," he said.
But as the growing season begins, many migrant workers will depend on the food banks until paychecks come in, he said.
And many of the cost-of-living factors that contribute to the need for food assistance show no sign of decreasing soon.
Volunteers at the food banks are preparing for a prolonged period of high demand for food assistance by reaching out to the community for cash donations and food drive.
Cash donations have increased in the past week, Neill said, but food donations remain low.