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Local Food Pantry Seeing Fewer Families, And That May Or May Not Be A Good Thing

 An exterior view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse, N.Y., Sept. 2, 2021.
Wyatt Barmore-Pooley
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An exterior view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse, N.Y., Sept. 2, 2021.

An Onondaga County food pantry has been seeing fewer families use its services since the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, but a new national report suggests a recent expansion of the federal child tax credit may be another reason households are seeking less help with groceries.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found a drop in U.S. adults living with children who reported not having enough to eat — the document cited Census data that showed a decline from 13.7% in late June and early July to 9.5% in mid-August. The monthly child tax credit checks started in mid-July giving the neediest families $250 to $300 more a month for each child.

In New York state, the decline was from 11% to 6%, said Claire Zippel, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities senior research analyst and author of the report.dropdrop

“New data from the Census Bureau strongly suggests that the monthly child tax credit payments are helping more families to put enough food on the table,” Zippel said.

Paul Wrobel, director of the food pantry at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, said he has noticed a decline in families relying on the provider.

“There’s not as many kids as we used to have,” Wrobel said.

However, he said that drop dates back further than the summer implementation of the monthly tax credit payments. Wrobel said the pantry previously served up to 40 families each month but that fell to around 20 to 30 after the pandemic began. Still, he said it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint whether its safety concerns, extra benefits or another reason that’s keeping people away.

“It’s hard to say why anyone isn’t coming because they’re not coming,” Wrobel said.

Zippel noted the drop highlighted by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report could be linked to other factors than the tax credit.

“We also know that the pandemic EBT program was ramping up. That’s a program that provides summer meals to children, so that could also be part of it as well,” she said.

The Pandemic-EBT program attempts to compensate for lost meals that schools would have provided to children of low-income families if they were not closed due to the pandemic, allowing them to buy food with benefits from this program.

Both the Pandemic-EBT program and the child tax credit expansion are temporary federal programs in place due to the pandemic. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is urging Congress to extend the latter.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March amid the continuing COVID-19 outbreak expanded the child tax credit to allow lowest-income families to collect the full tax credit per child. The plan also increased the amount given per child from $2,000 to $3,000 for children aged 6 to 17 years and $3,600 for kids under 6.