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Inflation could put more Canadians at risk of going hungry, say experts


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By Adina Bresge in Toronto

Experts and advocates anticipate that more Canadians could be at risk of going hungry as inflation continues to outpace many consumers’ grocery budgets.

Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at University of Toronto, said steepening inflation rates are likely to increase the prevalence and severity of food insecurity in Canada. That could mean financial concerns will prompt people to reduce meal sizes, skip meals or even go a day or more without eating.

Overall food costs rose 8.8 per cent compared with a year ago, while Canadians paid 9.7 per cent more for food at stores in April, the largest increase since September 1981, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday.

Compared with a year ago, the cost of fresh fruit was up 10 per cent, fresh vegetables gained 8.2 per cent and meat rose 10.1 per cent. The cost of bread rose 12.2 per cent, while pasta gained 19.6 per cent and rice increased 7.4 per cent.

While all consumers are prone feel the pinch at the checkout aisle, these numbers pose particular concern for low-income people who are less able to absorb the price hikes, forcing some to make compromises at a detriment to their dietary needs, Tarasuk said.

“As prices of basic commodities rise, it’s very worrisome to think that we have such a large swath of the Canadian population sitting in circumstances are insufficient to come up with the costs.”

The 2020 Canadian Income Survey found that 11.2 per cent of Canadians lived in households that had experienced moderate and severe food insecurity, and 4.6 per cent more had experienced marginal food insecurity.

Concerns over being able to consistently put food on the table is a pervasive and persistent problem in Canada, said Tarasuk, and as income levels lag farther behind inflation, the situation looks to get worse with far-reaching impacts.

Food insecurity is a “toxic condition” that has been linked to physical and mental health problems, Tarasuk said. As mounting costs threaten to draw more people into food security and compound the stress on those who are already struggling, inaction on this issue could have consequences for the health-care system and life expectancy, she said.

Tarasuk said only a fraction of food-insecure people turn to charity. But a couple of food banks reported that soaring food prices have accelerated the surge in demand for their services during the COVID-19 crisis.

“This is a crisis on a crisis,” said Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank. “These (inflation) numbers are meals that people will be going without.”

The Toronto-based food charity saw 160,000 client visits in March, up from 123,000 in March 2021, said Hetherington.

He projected that number will increase to 225,000 visits per month by this time next year, but said he hopes that’s an overestimate.

“I’m an incredibly optimistic guy, but I am very concerned about the next couple of years,” said Hetherington.

In the first three months of 2022, the Calgary Food Bank logged a 29 per cent year-over-year increase in demand for its food hampers, said communications co-ordinator Betty Jo Kaiser.

Last month, the organization distributed food support to nearly 9,500 people, 75 per cent of whom were first-time clients, said Kaiser.

“We do not expect a slowdown in demand,” she said. “We brace ourselves for continued and rising need.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

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‘How are people surviving?’: Gas spike detrimental for rural mail carriers, residents

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mail carrier says her out-of-pocket costs for delivering packages along her rural route have doubled because of the steep hike in gas prices and cost of living being experienced by many Canadians.

“The stress is exhausting,” said Jennifer Henson, a Calgary mother of two boys and one of 11,000 rural and suburban mail carriers delivering letters for Canada Post across the country.

“It’s not just gas. The cost of living has skyrocketed,” Henson said. “I’m always wondering how to pay this bill and that bill and I’m no different than any working-class Canadian across the country.”

The 38-year-old said it used to cost her $60 to the fill the tank of her Ford Flex.

“Now it’s costing me $125 to fill my tank every two days, so it’s completely doubled.”

Canada Post’s rural and suburban mail carriers don’t get a red and white corporate truck and a gas card like their urban counterparts. So, along with being required to use a personal vehicle with a minimum cargo capacity of 1,415 litres, the rural carriers also cover the cost of gas, maintenance and insurance of their vehicle.

“I drive over 200 kilometres a day. We go through tires, oil change, a set of brakes a lot quicker than the average person,” Henson said,

She said the Crown corporation provides her with a $720 biweekly allowance with the help of the Canadian Revenue Agency to pay for those bills, but she said it hasn’t been enough.

“I don’t want to slam Canada Post, because if you talk to most carriers, whether they’re urban or rural, we do love our jobs. I love my route. The countryside is relaxing. I’ve met amazing people,” said Henson, who has been a carrier for 16 years.

“But Canada Post has also increased their fuel surcharge, so when you go to the post office to mail something, you’re paying more as a customer because of the fuel. That’s not trickling down to us at all.”

She also said the CRA raised carriers’ allowance by five cents a litre this year, but “a few cents isn’t doing a whole lot when a year ago gas was about $1 less.”

Statistics Canada said this week the annual inflation rate has skyrocketed to its highest level in nearly 40 years in May, fuelled by soaring gas prices.

The agency says its consumer price index in May rose 7.7 per cent compared to a year ago. It’s the largest increase since January 1983.

Food prices for nearly everything in a grocery cart also grew by 9.7 per cent compared to a year ago.

Henson said the bill at the grocery store has also been a strain on her finances.

“My oldest son is 14 years old and my youngest will be 12 years old next month. They’re growing and they eat more than most of my friends,” she said.

“When you go to the grocery store, it just blows my mind. How are people surviving?”

Anna Beale, president of the Calgary Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said Canada Post needs to increase the allowance for its rural workers.

“Canada Post is able to provide all kinds of things like Tim Hortons gift cards (to their workers),” said Beale. “Why not take that money instead and make it work somehow for rural drivers so that they can afford these gas prices?”

A spokesperson for Canada Post said in a email the mail carrier is adapting to increased costs across many of its operations.

“Fuel prices are in unprecedented territory and have impacted the entire industry,” said Phil Legault.

He said to address any additional or unforeseen expenses, rural and suburban mail carriers are entitled to a cost-of-living allowance.

“This is reviewed throughout the year and paid out as per the collective agreements,” Legault said.

“The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has requested that we discuss the matter, and we will continue to engage them on this issue.”

Along with the carriers, a vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said any spike in inflation, as well as the cost of gas and diesel, hits rural Canadians the hardest.

“We don’t have access to public transit so we certainly pay disproportionately more for fuel because we have to drive everywhere,” Keith Currie said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta UCP announces cost of living measures as provincial inflation rate rises

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s United Conservative government has announced two measures to help curb an increasing cost of living.

The province says will keep a 13-cent provincial excise tax on gasoline in place for three more months after it first came into effect in April.

The fuel tax relief program is to be reviewed in September.

The province said in a second news release it will also provide homes, farms and small businesses with $50 monthly credits for electricity bills in July, August and September.

The rebate will be applied to the bills automatically.

The announcements were made after Statistics Canada reported the province’s annual rate of inflation increased to 7.1 per cent last month from 6.3 per cent in April, largely due to higher energy costs.

The province said it wants to provide the targeted support to help Albertans deal with the rising cost of living.

“These rebates, combined with the fuel tax exemption, will help the large majority of Alberta households pay their bills while we make the long-term changes needed to make energy more affordable in the years ahead,” said Dale Nally, associate minister of natural gas and electricity.

“Countless Albertans have told us how much the (fuel tax) program has helped them during these challenging economic times,” said Minister of Finance Jason Nixon.

“With the program’s extension, Alberta’s government is continuing to support Albertans and their ability to afford everyday goods.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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