- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Record-high gasoline prices, coupled with rapidly rising costs for food and other goods, have begun to cripple individuals and families at the lower end of the income scale, sending them in droves to food banks and other charities.

Some people are virtually stranded at home, unable to travel anywhere because they cannot afford to fuel their cars.

Amy, a mother of two who lives in Callahan, Florida, near the border with Georgia, said she spent $110 Monday at a local gas station, where a gallon of regular gasoline costs $4.81. She then hit the grocery store, where she pushed her cart past many of the items her family needed because she couldn’t afford them.

She said she left the grocery store feeling “ripped off” — and panicked.

“We’re just very, very careful,” Amy, who did not want her last name used, said as she broke down in tears. “And it almost scares me to the point where it’s like, how high is it going to go?”

Consumer prices rose by 8.6% in May over last year’s figures, higher than economists expected and up from 8.3% in April. The latest numbers shattered hopes that inflation, which has been climbing for months, was finally beginning to slow.

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President Biden acknowledged the rising costs in a speech Tuesday at the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia. He told the crowd that inflation “is sapping the strength of a lot of families.” He did not take credit for the crisis and instead blamed Republicans for blocking additional federal spending and tax increases that Mr. Biden said would lower costs for working families.

Mr. Biden told the union crowd that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered higher fuel prices. “I’m doing everything in my power to blunt Putin’s gas price hike,” he said.

The president said he has a plan to bring down the costs of gas and food that includes tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, persuading other countries to release emergency oil and helping export grain trapped in war-torn Ukraine.

“It’s going to take time,” Mr. Biden said.

In the meantime, more people are turning to food banks in desperation.

On a recent morning, cars lined up with their trunks open at Authentic Impact food pantry in Yulee, Florida, a few miles northeast of Jacksonville. Volunteers loaded boxes of food while outreach coordinator John Sauer scanned statistics on his phone that showed a drastic increase in the number of people seeking help from the pantry over the past few months, averaging a 57% increase over last year.

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He blamed the rapid rise in prices for just about everything.

“There were people that were making it month to month,” Mr. Sauer said. “And all of a sudden, with the gas prices and the groceries, they just fell off a cliff and they come here.”

Sami Speaker, 83, a widow who lives a few miles away from the food bank, pulled up with a quarter of a tank of gas left. Mrs. Speaker said it costs $85 to fully fuel her car and she can no longer afford soaring food prices. She now rarely leaves the house and has stopped making the trips to Jacksonville that she used to enjoy.

“It’s getting hard for me to get gas to get the free food,” Mrs. Speaker said. “It’s gotten where I can’t go anywhere now. I just sit at home.”

Julie, a server at the Ritz Carlton in Fernandina Beach, said she makes decent tips but not enough income to cover rent and higher prices for necessities.

She decided to go back to the food bank. “I have not come for years,” Julie said. “I make good money, but it’s still not enough.”

A few miles up the road, Yulee Baptist Church is operating a food pantry. Administrator Michelle Springer said the number of people seeking help from the food bank has increased by 25% in recent weeks.

“It’s obviously food inflation, and gas,” Mrs. Springer said. “People are just paying more for everything.”

More bad economic news arrived this week.

The Labor Department announced that the Producer Price Index, which measures the costs of wholesale goods before they make it to store shelves, rose 10.8% in May over the previous year, largely because of higher fuel costs. Consumer goods rose 1.4% in May, marking five months of increases.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point Wednesday, the biggest increase in nearly three decades, in an effort to tame inflation.

On the day The Washington Times visited Mr. Sauer’s food bank, volunteers had given away 460 boxes of food by noon and planned to keep it open for another hour and a half. The food bank reopens at 5 p.m., when more cars typically arrive.

The food bank provided food for 832 families last week and needs more donations, Mr. Sauer said.

“I think we are headed toward nothing better,” he said about the economy.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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