Expansion of food bank inventory not the best way to address hunger, food pantry official says

Reynolds announced $5 million in state funds for food bank infrastructure

By: - June 1, 2023 4:36 pm

Food pantry officials say more food-insecure households will approach already-strained Iowa food banks due to the new requirements for SNAP eligibility. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A $5 million investment to expand Iowa food bank inventory announced by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office is not the best route to solving food insecurity in Iowa, according to one Des Moines area food pantry.

Reynolds announced Wednesday the Iowa Food Insecurity Infrastructure Fund is accepting applications for the month of June for projects to build, expand or remodel facilities that experience economic hardship. 

Facilities must be nonprofit food banks that are bulk food aggregators or distributors or a food pantry network that serves as a primary distribution point, according to a news release from the governor. The funds are not available to food pantries that distribute directly to Iowans. 

Blake Willadsen, marketing and communications manager for Des Moines Area Religious Council, says investing in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), not food bank buildings, may be the best route to ease food insecurity in Iowa.


“SNAP has always been the most effective tool for us in the fight against food insecurity,” Willadsen said. “It’s the best way to invest in our people and our people are our biggest infrastructure here in the state of Iowa.”

He said providing money for food pantries to stock their shelves would also “greatly alleviate some of the stress that is happening right now.” …  I’m talking about purchasing food, I’m not talking about building a new building.”

Bill awaits Reynolds’ signature to expand SNAP work requirements

Willadsen is referencing Senate File 494, a bill to set a maximum on a family’s assets to qualify for receiving SNAP benefits. 

Reynolds signed the bill Thursday afternoon. It requires families to have no more than $15,000 in assets to be eligible for SNAP benefits. The value of one vehicle and $10,000 of the market value of a second vehicle does not count towards a family’s assets, according to the bill. 

Even without the new law, the DMARC food pantry has already reached record highs this year, serving a high of 20,822 unique individuals in the month of May. 

Opponents of the bill argue that more restrictions create a bigger barrier between families who need assistance and receiving aid.

Willadsen says the red tape from Senate File 494 will increase demand at Iowa food pantries. 

“Not only is Senate File 494 posing a pretty big risk for SNAP recipients, it is going to add a lot of red tape that will probably kick off over 2,800 Iowans off of SNAP and other assistance programs, it is going to put up a lot of administrative hurdles that will make it more difficult for people to enroll in SNAP …” he said.

Willadsen said creating a bigger hurdle to receive SNAP benefits will increase traffic at the DMARC pantries, which has seen record traffic in the last three months, including four of the five busiest days in the organization’s 47-year history. 

More food-insecure households will approach Iowa food banks due to the new requirements for SNAP eligibility, shifting financial responsibility to food banks donors rather than taxpayers.

“Big picture is that as more people lose access to SNAP, we’re going to continue to see this trend of more folks seeking out food pantries,” Willadsen said. “We’re going to continue to do the work.”

According to DMARC’s website, the organization is funded through individual donors, in-kind contributions, grants, congregations and events, as opposed to SNAP, which is funded by state governments and the federal government.  

Federal debt ceiling bill also restricts SNAP

A feature of the debt limit bill passed by the U.S. House Wednesday also includes new requirements for SNAP. 

Currently, people ages 16 to 59 are required to be looking for work, enrolled in a SNAP employment training program or earning wages equal to 30 hours per week of the federal minimum wage. Additionally, able bodied adults ages 18 to 49 must work or participate in a training program for at least 80 hours a month. 

If the debt limit bill is passed, the age increases to 52 later this year if an applicant does not have dependents and up to age 54 in 2024. 

Willadsen says the new requirements are not coming at a good time. 

“The changes we are anticipating to see at the federal level with budget talks, which could be up to another 9,000 Iowans getting kicked off SNAP,” Willadsen said. “If all of this is happening at the same time, we are inevitably going to see an increase at the pantry level.”

The debt limit bill would create work requirement exemptions for veterans, people without homes and young adults who recently left foster care.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed Senate File 494.


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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.