By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Food Bank is preparing to meet a higher-than-average demand for charitable food in 2022 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The food bank and its food assistance network have distributed enough food to provide nearly 83.7 million meals since the pandemic began in March 2020, the organization said Thursday. That’s a 70% increase over the same period prior to the beginning of the pandemic.

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COVID-19 and the variants it has spawned have led to rising inflation, supply chain disruptions, and labor shortages caused by surging cases, according to the organization. As a result, economic recovery remains tenuous, and many people continue to struggle to make ends meet, an issue exacerbated by the reduction of federal relief measures.

The state and federal governments have attempted to offset those hardships by providing people with stimulus checks, tax relief options and tax credits.

In early 2021, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a $1 billion COVID-19 relief plan into law aimed at providing tax relief of up to $9,000 for small businesses in Maryland. Those businesses were forced to shutter their doors in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, both President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, signed off on stimulus checks and legislation that provided economic relief to people across the country.

President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law in March 2020, which provided most adults with $1,200 and $500 per child. He also signed a bill that provided Americans with stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits in December 2020.

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The following year, Biden followed suit by providing $1,400 in direct payments to every person making up to $75,000 a year. The financial boost was part of his American Rescue Plan Act, which he signed into law in March 2021. The plan included an enhanced Child Tax Credit that increased the annual tax benefit from $2,000 to up to $3,600 per child. That credit expired at the end of 2021.

“The expiration of the expanded child tax credit combined with a wave of new COVID cases that will likely affect the local economy could trigger a significant increase in need for food assistance in 2022, especially as rising prices continue to put a heavy financial burden on Maryland families,” Carmen Del Guercio, CEO and president of the Maryland Food Bank, said.

Research conducted in December 2021 before the expiration of expanded child tax credits shows that 42% of the food bank’s partners surveyed reported an increase in the number of clients visiting their sites over a six-month period, according to the food bank. That data also shows that 68% of the food bank’s partners surveyed anticipate an increase in client attendance at their pantries or events over the next six months.

The organization noted that Maryland Food Bank and its partners received more than $2.1 million in grants in fiscal year 2021. Those grants were used to support their COVID-19 response efforts. The food bank spent more than $28 million on feeding Marylanders, which is a 405% increase over what it spent in fiscal year 2019—prior to the pandemic, according to the organization.

In March 2021, the food bank reported that it went from feeding one million food-insecure families to 2.5 million as the pandemic stripped people of their jobs and economic security.

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“As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, this global health crisis is far from over, and its social and economic effects will continue to impact the livelihoods of food-insecure Marylanders for months, if not years to come,” Del Guercio said.

CBS Baltimore Staff