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Food Insecurity Persists In Utah Despite Low Unemployment

Stock photo of a grocery cart in a supermarket.
Despite Utah's low unemployment, hundreds of thousands of Utahns are still unsure where their next meal is coming from, according to Utah Food Bank President Ginette Bott.

The line for a free Thanksgiving turkey went down the stairs and out the door at the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City Wednesday, where the Crossroads Urban Center hosted its annual food giveaway.

The nonprofit had more than 3,000 turkeys and bags of food items to distribute this year. While demand was much higher at the height of the Great Recession a decade ago, Crossroads’ Associate Director Bill Tibbitts says it hasn’t improved much in recent years.

“It’s about rent,” Tibbitts said. “The average apartment here in Salt Lake County costs 50% more now than it did five or six years ago. So there are a lot of people that have jobs, but their expenses have gone up.”

The Utah Food Bank also said it’s serving about the same amount of people this year as in past holidays.

“Despite what the unemployment numbers show, there are still 374,000 Utahns, and one in seven Utah children who are unsure where their next meal is coming from,” said Utah Food Bank President Ginette Bott. “There hasn’t been a time in history when hunger didn’t exist, and there likely won’t be one in the future, so donations of food, time or money are always important.”

Meanwhile, members of a legislative task force are looking at raising the sales tax on unprepared food from 1.75% to the full 4.85% sales tax rate, which Crossroads Urban Center and other advocates for low-income Utahns oppose. The Utah Food Bank declined to comment on the tax reform proposal.

The group of lawmakers studying tax reform say a tax hike on food would be coupled with grocery tax credits of up to $125 per family member. But Tibbitts of Crossroads said that isn’t a viable solution for some low-income families because it “gives people relief months after they need it.”

“People who don’t have $30 for a Thanksgiving meal are exactly the people who can’t afford to pay the sales tax on food,” he said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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