- As unemployment levels continue to rise, American’s all over the country are turning to food banks for assistance.
- But along with skyrocketing demands, food banks are also seeing fewer donations because of panic buying, hoarding, and other strains on the food supply chain.
- Experts believe some shortages will continue as more workers in processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores contract the coronavirus.
- Meanwhile, the lack of demand from shuttered hotels, restaurants, and schools has forced farmers to destroy millions of pounds of perishable foods.
Food Banks See Shortages
More than 16 million people have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks— a number that is expected to grow— causing demand at food banks to skyrocket.
Jarring photos and videos from all over the country show miles of cars lined up for hours to get food at local donation centers.
Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the U.S., reported that 98% of the 200 banks in their network reported increased demand. The organization also estimated that it will need around $1.4 billion in additional resources over the next six months to sustain its operations.
At the same time, food banks are seeing fewer volunteers as more people stay home and fewer donations because of panic buying and food hoarding.
The latter is especially concerning. Not only are less people making individual donations, grocery stores and retailers— which account for a huge chunk of donations— are also unable to give as much as normal because their shelves are stripped.
That, in turn, has also led to fewer donations from manufacturers who have to meet the increased demand at grocery stores. This has been the case for Feeding America, which reported donations from manufacturers have dropped by about half this month.
Farmers Forced to Destroy Crops
While food banks and grocery stores are experiencing shortages, farmers have been forced to destroy millions of pounds of fresh goods they cannot sell because demand has dropped drastically from all the restaurants, hotels, and schools that have closed.
The amount of food they are getting rid of is staggering. According to the New York Times, produce farmers are plowing millions of pounds of vegetables, while one chicken processor said it is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs each week.
Dairy Farmers of America estimates that farmers are dumping around 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. International Dairy Foods Association reported that about 5% of America’s milk supply is being thrown out, and it expects that amount to double if closings are extended over the next few months.
While farmers have given some goods to food charities like Meals on Wheels, major-scale food banks like Feeding America largely need non-perishable goods.
That creates a vicious cycle because restaurants, hotels, and casinos that are shut down and not buying from farmers are also places that normally give large amounts of food to food banks.
Supply Chain Problems
The drastic spike in demand for groceries and drop in demand for farm produce have put significant strain on the food supply chain. But they are not the only contributing factors to the issue.
There is also an increasing number of workers in processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores that are getting the coronavirus.
One of the most recent and notable examples is a Smithfield Foods pork processing facility in South Dakota. The facility announced it was shutting down Sunday after more than 230 workers got sick with the coronavirus.
The cases at the plant alone made up more than half of the state’s total confirmed cases, according to Governor Kristi Noem.
The incident is quite notable not only because that plant alone produces more than 5% of the nation’s pork, but also because it raises broader concerns about safety measures taken in the meat industry, which has seen multiple large-scale outbreaks.
Last week, Tyson Foods suspended operations at a pork plant in Iowa and JBS USA did the same at a beef plant in Pennsylvania after the coronavirus spread in those facilities.
On the opposite end of the supply chain, grocery store workers are also getting sick as well.
While there are no government agencies tracking cases among food industry workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said on Monday that at least 1,500 of its 1.3 million members have been infected with the virus, and 30 of them have died.
Industry leaders and experts say that shortages could increase, but continue to insist it is not a major problem. However, there is little writing and evidence from those same individuals regarding the impact these shortages can and will have on food banks.
While these concerns are expected to grow, there are some solutions in the works.
According to CNN, Feeding America has teamed up with the American Farm Bureau, which represents American agriculture producers, to propose a voucher program “that would increase the relationship between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another.”
Normally, farmers and food banks go through third parties, which can delay food deliveries. However, the voucher program would cut out the middleman and send farm products to food banks while also helping farmers and ranchers earn back costs.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (ProPublica)
Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission
While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.
New Eviction Ban
Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.
Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.
However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.
According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission.
While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.
“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday.
Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.
First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.
The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted.
Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.
Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.
The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.
Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.
Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.
“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”
Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.
Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)
Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds
The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.
Concerns for Emperor Penguins
Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.
That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.
However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.
U.S. Moves To Protect the Species
The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.
“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.