Congress is hashing out how much money to provide in the next round of pandemic unemployment checks as part of a new relief package. But those earlier programs weren’t the only things set up to help people during the pandemic.
The Department of Agriculture is kicking off the third round of its Farmers to Families Food Box distribution program in September. It was created to help people facing food insecurity during the economic downturn. The idea is to package up food from farmers that might otherwise have gone to waste — meat, produce and dairy — to deliver it to needy families.
The Idaho Foodbank started distributing food boxes through the program about two months ago. Chief Development Officer Morgan Wilson said its trucks, its partners and its drive-through centers have distributed boxes to nearly 30,000 families so far.
“They’re asked very simple questions around how many people are in their household, and then that food is loaded directly into either their car or their trunk with very minimal contact,” Wilson said.
She said it does require a lot of coordination. The food bank works with vendors who package the boxes. Those vendors work with farmers who have lost a market for many of their crops.
Jared Slinde at the Great Plains Food Bank in North Dakota said his program is bringing in about 1 million pounds of produce each month.
“It’s coming from U.S. farmers, [and] it’s getting trucked up to us from states away,” Slinde said.
Food boxes can be helpful in the short run, said Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Illinois.
But long term, he said, food boxes can’t help people on the scale of the government’s food benefits program, SNAP.
“If you were to put together these food boxes, to apply the same amount of food that’s being given through SNAP, it would be just enormous,” Gundersen said.
He added that the average benefit under SNAP is about $275 a month. The maximum can be much more. And packing up all that food in a box would be expensive.
“Almost prohibitively expensive, you know, if we were to include dairy in that, if we were going to include meat in that,” he said.
Gundersen said SNAP benefits also help people choose what food to buy themselves rather than having to rely on what’s in the box.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?
It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.
How are Americans spending their money these days?
Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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