11/05/2013 12:45 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Report says Manitoba has second-highest rate of food bank usage among provinces

WINNIPEG - Manitoba has the second-highest rate of food bank usage among the provinces and has seen the sharpest increase since 2008, says a report released Tuesday by a non-profit group representing Canada's food banks.

The report from Food Banks Canada says just over 4.7 per cent of Manitobans use food banks — second only to the 5.1 per cent counted in Newfoundland and Labrador. Forty-five per cent of Manitoba food bank users are children — a higher rate than any other province.

The study also found usage rates have increased in Manitoba by 48.8 per cent since 2008, despite regular increases to the province's minimum wage, which is now among the highest in Canada.

Marla Somersall, executive director of the Samaritan House food bank in Brandon, Man., was not surprised by the findings. Many Manitobans are struggling to pay for food because affordable housing is in short supply, she said.

Welfare and housing-assistance rates have remained virtually unchanged in recent years, she added.

"Many of the folks that we serve are receiving rental assistance for $300 to $400 per month ... and the rental rates, even in a community like Brandon, are between $700 and $800," Somersall said.

"So basically their food budget is used to pay for rent if they want to have a roof over their head."

Kerri Irvin-Ross, the province's minister for family services, said the government has boosted funding for affordable housing and job training.

"We have a commitment to build more social housing and we have built more seniors housing that is affordable across the province."

Food Banks Canada relies on data collected by its member agencies every March for its annual reports. The group represents food banks and affiliated agencies that serve an estimated 85 per cent of food bank users across the country.