Despite Economic Relief Hunger is on the Rise and Families are Suffering

By Parker Gilkesson

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, so too is the crisis with hunger that’s growing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, food insecurity has doubled overall and tripled in U.S. households with children. Black and Hispanic households with children are two times more likely to experience food insecurity than white households. This is true despite economic relief such as stimulus payments and extended unemployment benefits offered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, this month, the situation is likely to get worse for many households and families as those key supports come to an end unless Congress acts to pass another relief package. 

Why is hunger increasing at such an alarming rate?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits only average around $43 per person per week which is not enough to sufficiently feed children, particularly when they are not in school. States were allowed to increase SNAP benefits up to the maximum benefit amount for all eligible recipients, however, people with the lowest incomes who were already receiving the maximum benefit did not receive any increase in SNAP benefits. 

Also, many families face the stigma of receiving public benefits, even in a pandemic. Harmful stereotypes of laziness and neglect, or mistreatment when visiting a social services offices all cater to the stigma of getting public assistance. Nobody should be afraid to apply for a benefit because they’re afraid of how they’ll be perceived as a parent; however, that is often times the case. Addressing stigma requires us to reject harmful and racist stereotypes about people receiving public benefits, while recognizing the structural factors that deny people access to well-paying jobs and appreciating the choices that people with low incomes make to feed their families. It also requires that policymakers and advocates listen to people who use the programs.

According to members of CLASP’s Community Partnership Group, a group of advocates directly impacted by the policies we work on, children being out of school has played a major role in the increase in hunger. CPG Group member Jimmieka Mills says that “many low-income families receive free and reduced lunch and breakfast for their children during the school year. With school being out due to COVID-19 children are going hungry. Even for families who were able to supplement during the school year with government resources like SNAP are now struggling because that additional nine hours their children were at school, they are now home, and two meals a day becomes four for families with a child, not to mention multiple children.” Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), which is geared toward addressing hunger in children, has had a slow start, with some states just receiving approval to issue benefit in the last week. And due to social distancing and transportation issues, there was low participation across the nation for school meals served at feeding sites.  

Mills also noted that “families at home are spending more on utilities, and possibly on child care.” Lastly, she talked about the fact that the cost of food has risen, so families are buying less food for more money. 

Another advocate from the CLASP CPG, Barbie Izquierdo, mentioned that during this global pandemic and the recent uprising inspired by injustices and the murder of George Floyd, “there are many factors that play into why our people are increasingly affected by food insecurity, and unfortunately, what it feels like for us is that our people are forgotten.” While our society provides lip service to the importance of children, the reality is different, especially for children of color. She says “Our people need help and we are all equal. Let’s not forget that our children are our future leaders.”

To decrease hunger during this global pandemic, the next coronavirus relief package should include an overall increase to SNAP benefits by at least 15% to ensure that households have enough food to make it to the end of the month, and an extension of P-EBT through the summer. It is also essential and long overdue to address the long-term structural factors that created hunger even before COVID-19 struck. As Barbie Izquierdo stated communities of color are being pressed on every side—often feeling marginalized, left behind, and forgotten.