As inflation has caused the average family to spend hundreds of dollars more per month this year, it’s also caused the Maryland Food Bank’s costs to double.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been buying more food than ever,” Maryland Food Bank spokesperson Joanna Warren told The Center Square.

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The food bank relied on native foods, but that source dried up during the pandemic, she said.

“And now we’re not only purchasing double the amount we did pre-COVID, but that food is also costing double the amount it did before COVID,” she said.

In 2019, the food bank bought 12 million pounds of food at 45 cents per pound. For fiscal year 2023, they are budgeting double that amount.

Pre-COVID, Maryland was one of the most expensive places to live, she said. Rising inflation isn’t helping as the average household spends $445 more per month to buy the same goods and services they purchased this time last year, she said.

The percentage of Marylanders who find it difficult to pay for their usual household expenses rose from 25% in December 2021 to 37% in November of this year, according to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey released late in November, Warner said.

“When we talk about food price inflation in particular, we know that people who are low income, particularly those who are SNAP participants, have more challenges now than they did prior to this year, or during the last year when we’ve had food price inflation,” Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, told The Center Square.

Maryland Hunger Solutions is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve public policies to end food insecurity and poverty. Lower-income households are hit hardest with little wiggle room in their budgets to begin with, Warner said.

“They’re having to make tough choices between putting food on the table and paying for their electricity bills or their rent costs or child care,” she said.

Wilson said that is ameliorated in part because in Maryland emergency allotments are still being utilized for SNAP, giving everyone the maximum benefit.

The dollars SNAP participants spend helps uphold the state’s economy, he said. SNAP accounted for more than $1 billion in 2021.

When the federal waiver ends, some people who are receiving $200 will get $100, or $50 — or in some cases, go down to $20 a month — which is what Maryland Hunger Solutions believes will be the minimum benefit going forward, he said.

That will be problematic, not just because of inflation, but because of the challenge to have any kind of a healthy diet on such a restrictive budget, Wilson said.

“They will do the best they can. It’s not possible to make up that difference in a charitable way,” he said.

Approximately 350,000 Maryland students were getting free meals, with another 40,000 getting reduced-price meals before the pandemic. A federal waiver enabled the state to feed every student at no charge to their families.

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