FoodShare benefits temporarily increase until June, should ease demand for local food pantries

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – La Crosse area residents that already receive FoodShare benefits are getting some extra help.

As part of the recent stimulus package, FoodShare benefits increased by 15 percent for eligible families.

These temporary benefits will go until June this year.

La Crosse area families getting these new FoodShare benefits can now buy their goods in-person or online.

“This is going to especially beneficial for folks like seniors,” Hunger Task Force of La Crosse executive director Shelly Fortner said.

“Accessing something close to them is a lot easier sometimes to put a meal on the table than having to get on a bus,” WAFER Food Pantry executive director Erin Waldhart said.

How Waldhart describes the past 10 months?

“It’s a different kind of busy,” Waldhart said.

People are coming twice a month for two food packages instead of one.

“So what we’ve seen is almost a 500 percent increase in the number of families that are returning,” Waldhart said.

It’s good for the families, but not always for staff.

“The work has gotten harder. And more particularly for our volunteers,” Waldhart said.

“We’re seeing families that we usually didn’t see,” Fortner said.

Fortner says these extra FoodShare benefits should ease the demand.

“That’s just the way the system is designed,” Fortner said. “That if you get more FoodShare dollars, you should be relying on food pantries and food banks less.”

Waldhart recommends people come to the pantry first.

“And then use your FoodShare benefits to get the items that we can’t,” Waldhart said. “We can’t offer a gallon of milk every week.”

But whatever happens is not a guarantee.

“So we’re going to have all of these extra benefits until June, and then what?,” Fortner said.

A question that can only be answered with good preparation.

“People are going to continue to struggle for quite a while yet,” Fortner said. “But we’re going to be ready.”

Food pantries and food banks encourage everyone who is eligible for FoodShare dollars to apply for benefits.

Wisconsin DHS officials say more than 725,000 Wisconsin residents rely on FoodShare during the pandemic.