Operators believe the recession is responsible for a groundbreaking spike in food bank use, however, the same recession may prevent governments from addressing the problem.
After years of decline, food bank usage in Nova Scotia this March spiked 20 per cent over March 2008. It was the second highest jump in the country, after Alberta’s 60 per cent increase. A nation-wide snapshot of food bank dependence is done every March.
Feed Nova Scotia Executive Director Dianne Swinemar said the good news is so far donations by Nova Scotians have met demand. But she called on governments to give more money to social assistance to alleviate the pressure.
“Benefit levels are, in the majority of cases, not sufficient to meet even the most basic of human needs,” she said. “In many cases they’re discouraged from making money. Once they reach a certain level of income, it’s taken back from them.”
Swinemar said many people on welfare lack the essentials – good clothes, phone lines, resumé training – needed to get jobs.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter was asked on Monday whether he would hike social assistance rates. He dodged the question.
During a press conference where the premier said the recession has made spending cuts and tax hikes necessary, he was asked whether looming deficits would nix a boost to welfare.
While Dexter said his government would work to make life better for the province’s most vulnerable, he wouldn’t commit to more money.
Instead, Dexter focused on sensitivity to the poor in future economic moves.
“(Things like) consumption taxes hit those people on the lowest end of the economic scale hardest,” he said. “So that’s part of what’s going to have to be dealt with over the coming weeks and months.”
More than 20,000 individuals went to a food bank in the province this March, and operators speculate many are people returning from Alberta without jobs.