Agencies that provide emergency food and shelter are likely to benefit from the largest increase in federal assistance in nearly 20 years, according to local officials.
The extra money could not have come at a better time, as local agencies are seeing a big increase in demand for their services, officials said.
“This is the first time in a number of years it has increased, and significantly, not marginally. But the needs are even beyond this increase,” said the Rev. Philip Grigsby, executive director of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry.
SICM runs Schenectady County’s largest food pantry, servicing approximately two-thirds of all people seeking emergency food and services.
“My instinct is that the federal government is trying to make up for no increases in prior years and to respond to the economy,” Grigsby said.
The federal Emergency Food and Shelter National Board is providing the money. It helps local social service organizations offer emergency assistance. Congress gave the board $200 million last year to distribute to states this year. By statute, local United Ways distribute the aid to counties, using need-based formulas, Grigsby said.
Schenectady County will receive $93,162 from the board, a 27 percent increase from last year’s grant. Albany will receive $180,339, a 33 percent increase; Fulton County will get $43,445, up 29 percent; Montgomery County, $42,105, up 36 percent; and Schoharie County, $26,224, up 45 percent. Saratoga County did not qualify for federal assistance for its pantries and shelters.
In Schenectady County, the federal assistance will be distributed to SICM, the Salvation Army, Bethesda House and other agencies that assist the poor, Grigsby said.
“The group has traditionally divided the money between food and shelter,” he said.
Lisa Steagall-Thurman of the United Way of the Greater Capital Region is working with Schenectady agencies to distribute the aid. Agencies can apply for the aid through Feb. 27. Agencies eligible for aid are food pantries, on-site feeding programs and emergency shelters. Funds can also be used for rent, mortgage and utility assistance.
Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, said the agencies are seeing an increase in demand.
The regional food bank distributes food to more than 100 agencies in 23 counties. It collects large donations of food from commercial sources for this purpose. For example, Hannaford Supermarkets on Wednesday gave the food bank more than $10,000 in donations.
Quandt said the recession is putting increased strain on agencies, and not all are able to meet the demand.
“This past year, we saw an overall 20 percent increase in demand,” he said. “It is hard, and we are doing the best we can. Some are cutting back in the amount of food they give, so they can serve the same number of people.”
Grigsby said the SICM food pantry saw daily visits increase 27 percent.
“Our business is booming,” he said.
SICM provides additional services, and taken together, it saw demand increase 30 percent in 2008 from the prior year.
Quandt said the number of people seeking emergency assistance statewide has increase from 13.3 million in 2006 to approximately 15 million in 2008.