Amid pandemic and slow-moving relief legislation, theft of food and hygiene items at historic highs

Pexels / Oleg Magni
The Washington Post has reported that retailers, police departments and loss prevention researchers are seeing a nationwide spike in theft of food and hygiene products — data that starkly illustrates the ever-increasing need for federal relief.

The Post reports that shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began — at much higher levels than in past economic crises — but what’s distinctive about this trend is the fact that staples such as bread, pasta and baby formula are what’s being taken.

“2020 has been extra difficult because of the coronavirus pandemic,” SA Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper said in September. “We’re seeing more families — those who never thought they’d be in this situation — coming in for help.”

The San Antonio Food Bank has seen a rapid increase in need during the pandemic, as more than 625,000 people in the organization’s 16-county service area have received food bank assistance since March.

“It’s become much harder during the pandemic,” one Washington, D.C. grocery store operator told the Post. “People will say, ‘I was just hungry.’ And then what do you do?”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year — a 45% increase from 2019.

While several federal food programs provided billions of dollars in fresh produce, dairy and meat to food banks nationwide, those programs are set to expire at the end of the year — just weeks away.

The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is one of the largest federal efforts, providing organizations like Feeding Texas and the SA Food Bank with food boxes during the pandemic, but it is already running out of money in some states, according to the Post.

A $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief deal has been proposed to Congress, however little progress has been made on the legislation as folks on both side of the aisle continue to bicker about details.

“We’re supposed to be the greatest, richest country in the world, and we don’t have safety nets for when something like this happens?” Danielle Nierenberg, president and founder of food equity and sustainability nonprofit Food Tank, told the Post.

“People are being forced to steal when they shouldn’t have to, and that’s a great American tragedy.”

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