Feed Nova Scotia says it “cannot absorb” another double-digit increase in demand at Nova Scotia’s food banks.
Speaking to MLAs at a committee on Tuesday, Feed Nova Scotia executive director Nick Jennery said his agency is at a “tipping point” and on “thin ice.”
Between March 2015 and March 2016, Nova Scotia led the country in growth in food bank use, with a 21 per cent spike.
Demand in Halifax outpaced the provincial rate, growing by 49 per cent. Jennery called that “an unbelievable number.”
It’s a “scary number,” he said. “Because we don’t know how we can support that.”
The province funds 0.3 per cent ($12,000) of Feed Nova Scotia’s $3.5-million budget. Jennery said the agency isn’t asking for more direct funding from the province but says there is more it can do.
He’s calling on the province to expand the tax credit for farms that donate surplus food to include meat and dairy.
Since the tax credit was created last year, he said donations of perishable foods increased by 108 per cent.
Feed Nova Scotia says it also needs a bigger facility to keep up with demand, and Jennery said he’s asked the government to help secure one. He’s also advocating for a zero-food-waste policy to divert the billions worth of food that goes into landfills every year.
But Jennery said food banks alone won’t be able to solve the crisis of hunger in Nova Scotia. He’s calling on the province to look at the root causes of hunger in Nova Scotia.
Pointing to the demographics that make up food bank clients, Jennery said 56 per cent receive income assistance. And he said the rate of use from people on income assistance in Nova Scotia is 11-per-cent higher than the national average.
“We cannot feed our way out of this crisis,” he said, telling reporters that the numbers show him that “income assistance is not enough.”
Acknowledging that the system is in the midst of an overhaul, Jennery suggested that the rules around how income assistance is administered should be reviewed.
Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said income assistance will be transformed by 2019. However, she said that raising the income solution won’t necessarily address hunger in Nova Scotia.
“It’s not as simple as just raising rates or raising minimum wage,” she said. “If it was as simple as raising the rates, it would have been done 30 years ago.”
Whether it would fix the entire problem or not, NDP Leader Gary Burrill says income assistance rates should be enough to cover food costs. He said a lack of money is the “core problem” and called income assistance rates in the Nova Scotia “criminally low.”
The rate of children who rely on food banks in the province should concern everyone, Jennery told MLAs.
Of the 44,000 people who access food banks, Jennery said almost 16,000 of them are children.
“It’s depressing and outrageous and intolerable that we actually have this here in Nova Scotia,” he said. “To me, it’s unacceptable and we all ought to treat it as unacceptable and do something about it.”
He said Feed Nova Scotia makes providing food for children a priority through organizations like Family SOS. He said the number of children going without food is likely higher than the statistics he has because many people who are food insecure don’t go to food banks.
Liberal MLA Joyce Treen told the committee that some people in her Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage riding can’t easily get to a food bank so she and her staff started one at her office.
She says one of her staff members spends “several hours a week” collecting coupons and she then uses the coupons to buy more with less. She says she keeps perishable and non-perishable food at her office for any constituents who are struggling.
Asked if she would like the government to come up with a broader solution to hunger in Nova Scotia, she said she would like to see a special budget for individual MLAs to use at their discretion. She said the money could “help people” with food and other items.
Burrill said Treen’s approach is offensive and that a much broader approach is needed to tackle hunger in Nova Scotia. He said the only budget that should be used to ensure people have enough food on their table is the provincial budget.
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