Santa Clara County jails need $1.5 million to keep up with food price increases
If it feels like your wallet is becoming lighter with each passing day since the start of the pandemic, you’re not wrong.
Even Santa Clara County’s jails are apparently feeling the squeeze.
According to the county’s budget office, its jails will need an extra injection of $1.5 million for 2022 — all because of food price increases. The sudden jump represents a whopping 26% increase in the allocated budget for food at both Main Jail North in San Jose and Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas compared to last year and reflects a larger pandemic-induced economic pinch that is affecting customers at the grocery store, restaurant owners and now billion-dollar government behemoths like Santa Clara County.
And the need for more money comes as the jail population in Santa Clara County has actually gone down by a lot. Right before the beginning of the pandemic, the population was at just under 3,500. Today it is at approximately 2,500.
Deputy County Executive Martha Wapenski said that the pandemic is to blame for the budget increase.
Most of the food at the jail is usually cooked on-site by staff members and a group of selected inmates. But since the beginning of the pandemic, multiple outbreaks at the jails have forced the county to rely less on on-site cooking and more on pre-packaged meals.
Those meals, said Wapenski, already were more expensive — but their price has increased substantially since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Even though the jail population is down, all those factors contribute to the increased cost of food,” said Wapenski.
The $1.5 million is a revision to the 2022 budget, a process that happens every year and subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors this coming Tuesday. The money will come out of the county’s general fund and other revisions up for vote include millions of extra dollars going towards housing costs, body-worn cameras for the sheriff’s department and traveling nurses for the county’s healthcare system.
Santa Clara County’s experience mirrors a larger economic shock being felt regionwide. In December, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics released its Consumer Price Index report for the Bay Area. The report, which measures the aggregate cost of prices in a particular region, revealed that food prices have gone up 5.2% over the last year. Items like meats, poultry, fish and eggs are fueling that rise with a 9.4% jump, as well as cereals and bakery products at 10.3%. Eating out is also getting more expensive, the report said, with restaurant-goers paying 3.6% more.
The reason for the food price spikes is multi-faceted, said Sean Randolph, senior director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
“It’s not one thing driving it,” he explained. “It’s a whole series of things contributing to it.”
First of all, he said, fewer people are producing the food because of worker shortages that are being experienced across the country in light of the omicron surge. And, actually getting food products shipped is tricky these days not only because of workforce issues but also since fuel costs have gone up so much. The Consumer Price Index report from December found that gasoline in the Bay Area has surged 44.2 percent over the last year.
“It’s shortages,” he said. It’s bottlenecks in the logistical system. It’s fuel and energy costs.”
Overall inflation, however, is one of the biggest reasons, he said, the cause of which is currently up for debate. Some attribute it to surging demand that isn’t being met while others say its federal government’s pandemic stimulus packages that have pumped trillions of dollars into the economy.
Either way, said Randolph, inflation is a serious culprit for rising food costs.
“That’s one of the insidious affects of inflation,” he said. “It covers so many products and inputs, if you apply it across the board, it increases the cost of everything.”