August 12, 2020

While we await the next coronavirus relief stimulus package, it’s important to consider whether measures taken so far have reached the most vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 pandemic is one that affects all groups, but one that has impacted groups differently. With unemployment rates skyrocketing, infection rates spiking, and racism being declared a public health crisis in over 20 cities, Black communities and other marginalized racial and ethnic communities are being hit the hardest.

Food security is one major area that has been heavily impacted by the current health and economic crises. For many communities, regardless of race or ethnicity, but especially among those experiencing systemic racism and oppression, levels of food insecurity have begun to rise.

  • The Northwestern Institute for Policy Research reports that rates of food insecurity in the U.S. have risen to 42 percent for Black households and 39 percent for Hispanic households during the pandemic,
  • FRAC’s latest report focusing on food insecurity rates in the Southern Region finds that households headed by Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely to experience food insecurity and very low food security than households headed by White individuals.
  • A survey by the Urban Institute shows that immigrant communities are disproportionately impacted with one in four adults in families with noncitizens experiencing food insecurity since May.
  • In a time where stay-at-home orders are encouraged or mandated, it’s important to note that Latinx, Native, and Black communities are two to four times less likely to have access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods.

One of the key programs being utilized to mitigate the damaging effects of COVID-19 over the past few months is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Over six million people have enrolled in SNAP since February with the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act enabling states to adjust administrative SNAP rules and increase access to enrollment. Forty states have also enrolled in an online purchasing pilot that allows SNAP participants to purchase groceries from eligible retailers and have them delivered to areas with low access to quality foods.

Boosting SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective ways to combat food insecurity. SNAP participation also improves health outcomes and helps to prevent chronic health diseases that disproportionately affect people of color and make them more susceptible to contracting infections like COVID-19. However, the down payments Congress made to boost SNAP benefits in the Families First package are only short-term. Moreover, the manner in which USDA has implemented it leaves out nearly 40 percent of SNAP households. This translates to over 7 million no to low-income households that have not received any increase in their SNAP benefits. With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the racial wage gap, Black and Latinx households maintain lower median household incomes and would benefit most from an increase in the monthly maximum SNAP benefit. Continuing to expand SNAP is an important factor in decreasing racial disparities in health and food insecurity.

SNAP is a priority program that must be protected and strengthened to ensure food assistance reaches the most vulnerable populations. Food justice is an essential component of racial justice. Racial equity in our food system means creating an environment where everyone can access and afford quality and nutritious foods. This is a critical time for anti-hunger advocates across the country to ensure that racial equity is at the crux of their work in ending hunger and food insecurity.