Through all the economic uncertainty during this pandemic, we heard yesterday about one tentative success, and an important one: emergency hunger programs. The number of households that experienced food insecurity during 2020 was about the same as the year before, according to the new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the pandemic early days, food banks saw long lines, and a lot of folks were in a scary, uncertain place.
So the USDA report is good news, said Jim Sullivan, an economics professor at Notre Dame. He said despite so many people losing work in 2020, “and lots of struggles with the pandemic and health concerns, we don’t see that overall food insecurity has increased.”
What Sullivan calls “sizable government relief” is why — pandemic unemployment benefits and stimulus checks. Also more access to food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“There was actually an increase in SNAP benefits,” said Ellie Agar with Hunger Free Colorado.
Aid efforts did try to lend extra support to households with kids. But sometimes getting food meant, for example, having to drive to a brown-bag meal pickup — hard for families without a car.
“That’s something that that family is not going to be able to access even if it’s offered,” Agar said.
That kind of challenge is why households with children were one group that did experience more food insecurity last year.
Many families had to turn to food pantries when they lost a job or hours were cut. Kelly Durrett with the Mississippi Food Network said some of them just barely didn’t qualify for SNAP.
“They were just a little over the threshold and making too much money or having too much income, but they still don’t have enough food to feed their families,” Durrett said.
Even for those who do get assistance, there is what some call a benefits cliff coming this fall. Pandemic unemployment benefits for parents who couldn’t work or gig workers ended on Labor Day. Others, like extra SNAP benefits, expire this month.
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