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Manitoba food bank usage 'distressing'

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>In March 2016, 61,914 Manitobans used a food bank, which is down 2.9 per cent from March 2015.</p>

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

In March 2016, 61,914 Manitobans used a food bank, which is down 2.9 per cent from March 2015.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2016 (1295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba food banks saw a slight decline in traffic this year, but the province has the second-highest use rate in the country.

HungerCount 2016, the annual report by Food Banks Canada, showed 61,914 Manitobans used a food bank in March 2016, down 2.9 per cent from March 2015. But 4.75 per cent of the Manitoba population sought assistance. Only Newfoundland, at 4.99 per cent, had a higher rate.

Shawn Pegg, director of policy and research for Food Banks Canada, said Manitoba’s small reduction should be looked at in the context that compared to eight years ago, food bank use in the province is still up more than 50 per cent. The 2015 food bank use in Manitoba was the highest it had ever been.

"It’s a slight decline from a record high," Pegg said.

Janelle Duerksen, director of client services and community engagement for Winnipeg Harvest, said the small decline might be attributable to the Rent Assist program in Manitoba, which helps some low-income families with additional money to pay their rent. The program was fully rolled out in 2015, Duerksen said.

She said while the majority of food bank users are in Winnipeg — and Winnipeg Harvest has seen slight declines in demand — food banks outside of Winnipeg are seeing increased demand. More than 40 per cent of food banks in the province reported an increase in the number of clients in March 2016, the HungerCount report says.

All provinces have seen food bank use go up since 2008, when the recession hit. Nationally, more than 863,000 people used a food bank in March 2016, up 1.3 per cent over March 2015, and up 28 per cent since 2008. Half of food bank users are women, and more than one-third are children. In Manitoba, 43 per cent of food bank users are children under 18. Saskatchewan is the only province where a larger percentage of users are kids, at 45 per cent.

Pegg said the new Canada Child Benefit should have an impact on food bank use among kids if the predictions on its impact on poverty reduction for families are realized.

"I think it shows the impact a real change can make," Pegg said at a news conference on Parliament Hill to officially release the report.

He called the high rate of food bank use "distressing," noting economic shocks in the western provinces have contributed greatly to the national increase this year. Food bank use in Alberta and Saskatchewan was up almost 18 per cent in March compared to a year earlier.

Food Banks Canada is calling on the federal government to adopt poverty-reduction legislation by next October with identifiable targets and adequate funding. It also recommends changing social assistance to address food insecurity and move towards creating a basic income in Canada.

Pegg said the Liberal government has made some good promises to address social inequality and poverty but now needs concrete action to ensure those promises aren’t mired in a never-ending consultation process with no real progress.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 4:41 PM CST: Adds comments and box

November 16, 2016 at 8:16 AM: Edited

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