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How the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge highlights food insecurity in Maryland

Canned food items being stored at Anne Arundel County Food Bank this week. Photo by Tommy Tucker/Capital News Service.

At the start of April, the hunger-relief nonprofit Maryland Food Bank noticed that there was a significant uptick in online traffic and web searches of Marylanders looking for places to secure food for their families.

Carmen Del Guercio, CEO and president of the food bank, says that the organization noticed a 300% increase in activity on their website at the start of April compared to the first half of March, and he suspects that part of the interest is due to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early morning of March 26.

“Given that there was such a significant increase in over a relatively short period of time, I believe that the bridge is probably having something to do with that,” he said.

The collapse of the bridge and the closure of the Port of Baltimore occurred in the final weeks of the 2024 legislative session, at a time when groups such as the Maryland Food Bank were watching bills that could help them provide hunger-reduction efforts to more residents across the state. Unplanned catastrophes such as the bridge collapse show that families may find themselves unexpectedly searching for available food assistance programs, such as the Maryland Food Bank.

“I think that what’s happening is families, employees and businesses that the port supports are seeing a little bit of a pinch, or are anticipating a pinch, and that folks are keen and preparing for that and beginning to search for vehicles in that area that could potentially support food for them in that area,” Del Guercio said.

He said that when there’s a crisis such as the collapse of the Key Bridge and other major catastrophes, food support networks such as the Maryland Food Bank try to stay ready to help when needed.

“What we’re doing is make sure we’re staying connected with local governments, local union officials, other people on the ground to…monitor activity, volume, and ensure that we are setting aside some additional food as needed. Because if they start seeing that spike climb pretty quickly, we want to make sure that we can provide to them as well as other partners in our network,” he said.

While the bridge collapse has increased the amount of people looking for food assistance in the state, Maryland has been battling food insecurity long before the tragedy.

According to Feeding America, a partner of the Maryland Food Bank, one in 10 people in Maryland face hunger, and 37.1% of households that receive federal food assistance include children.

During session, the General Assembly took some legislative action to help provide food insecure households with additional funding opportunities and other measures to reduce the amount of hungry Marylanders.

One of the bills provides a few extra dollars each months to seniors receiving federal food assistance. Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), was approved by the general assembly and is awaiting consideration from Gov. Wes Moore (D). The House version, House Bill 666, was also approved by the legislature.

The  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, shortened to SNAP and sometimes referred to as “food stamps,” helps provide low-income households with money for food. The minimum benefit is $23 per month and the average benefit provided to Maryland households was $306 per month in fiscal 2024, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

While SNAP is a federal program, the funding comes from federal and state sources, and Maryland currently provides financial supplements for those aged 62 and older with an additional funds to ensure that they receive at least $40 a month.

McCray’s bill initially proposed removing the age requirement and would have ensured any SNAP household to receive at least $95 each month through state supplements.

The bill was amended during session. The final version of the bill lowered the eligibility age from 62 to 60 years old and ensures that those who qualify for SNAP receive at least $50 each month, up from the current $40 supplement.

The fiscal summary for SB 35 says that the additional supplement will increase general fund expenditures by $2.9 million in the 2025 fiscal year, and $3.9 million in fiscal 2026 and after.

Del Guercio noted that the General Assembly was working in a constrained fiscal year but said that lawmakers were able to approve funding to support the Maryland Food Bank and provide additional hunger-relief resources.

“Funding overall is something that we’re excited that we’re able to maintain in what I know to be a difficult budget year,” he said.

Another successful bill that the Maryland Food Bank supported is SB 425, which deals with Maryland Meals for Achievement In-Classroom Breakfast Program that helps schools serving a large percentage of children who qualify for free or reduced meals.

Currently, middle and high schools are able to provide those meals in any “broadly accessible” parts of the school, but limits had been placed on elementary schools.

“For elementary school kids who may arrive late to school, this restriction limits their access to free breakfast,” bill sponsor Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore) said during the legislative session.

Moore signed SB 425 and the House version, HB 368, on April 9, which will grant elementary schools the same flexibility that middle and high schools have.

Groups such as the Maryland Food Bank are supportive of bills that help reduce the number of hungry children and households in the first place, and are pleased with the passage of the governor’s priority legislation known as the ENOUGH Act.

ENOUGH stands for stands for “Engaging Neighborhoods, Organizations, Unions, Governments, and Households,” and creates a $15 million grant program that aims to help targeted local communities reduce childhood poverty in certain areas.

“We support that as well as an effort to begin to support organizations on the ground and in communities all across the state are responding to diversifying needs,” Del Guercio said. “And so for us and our wrap-around approach, in terms of providing other supports and finding ways to address the root causes of hunger, we find that this is an important legislative win.”


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How the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge highlights food insecurity in Maryland