Local organizations ready to help as unemployment benefits expire

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Millions of Americans lost all of their federal unemployment benefits on Monday, but there is still assistance available for those struggling during the pandemic.

Food assistance is still on the table for those battling hunger.

"Hunger has been here for a long time and I see it’s still on the horizon,” Cathy Maes, the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said. “We serve meals to anyone who asks for them without asking any questions.”

Loaves & Fishes is a nonprofit food bank that has served the community for decades.

“Am I upset or sad the need is so great? Of course, we always say we’d like to work ourselves out of work,” Maes said.

Pre-pandemic the nonprofit served about 1.3 million meals in 2019. In 2020, the demand jumped to 4.4 million meals.

"We’ve been watching the numbers all this year and we’re on pace to go over another 4 million,” Maes said.

As millions say goodbye to unemployment checks, food banks expect the need to grow.

"There are still people, absolutely, that are out there that are struggling, and, again, depending on your personal situation, it may not be easy for you to just get right back into the workforce that quickly,” Brigid Tuck, a University of Minnesota senior economic analyst, said.

An August 2021 census survey shows the top reasons why the unemployed are not taking jobs is because of child care challenges and the fear of catching COVID or spreading it.

Tuck said the lack of people working is putting a strain on the economy.

“I really do hope that brings people safely back into the workforce and does help us get more people working, so that we can continue to grow our economy,” she said.

Since workers are in demand, she said the power is in their hands.

“Businesses have to get a lot more creative, how they’re working with their employees, whether it be more flexibility, whether it be more benefits or higher wages,” Tuck said.

Tuck says getting back to work will put the economy back on track.

"These extra benefits expiring is overall a good thing," Tuck said.