March 8, 2021

This International Women’s Day, FRAC is raising its hand high to show that we commit to #choosetochallenge and call out the inequalities that still exist, including how women in the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by hunger and poverty. 

Food insecurity poses a grave threat to the health, nutrition, and economic security of women and their families. For women, food insecurity goes hand in hand with poorer health and lower productivity. And when women go hungry so their children have enough to eat, the resulting stress, disruption, and depression harm not only the adults, but also the children’s physical health, mental health, and schooling.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women have been particularly hit hard by unemployment, poverty and hunger. They have lost jobs at higher rates than men, and Black and Latinx women have been disproportionately harmed. In initial job losses at the start of the pandemic, Black and Latinx women lost jobs at higher rates, and in May, Latinx women’s unemployment rate reached about 20 percent, with Black women second at 16 percent compared to a 15 percent unemployment rate for White women. Alarmingly, of the 140,o00 jobs lost in December of 2020, all of them belonged to women.

The pandemic has shed light on policy changes necessary to ensure women get the nutrition they need. Improving access and strengthening the federal nutrition programs — such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and in-school and out-of-school time child nutrition programs — are an essential and smart pandemic response to addressing hunger among women and their families. These programs have a range of benefits that are targeted to women and their children. 

Here are a few examples:

SNAP leads to improved health outcomes, as well as improved education, economic self-sufficiency, and other positive outcomes, for families with low incomes. Receiving SNAP has been shown to improve health among mothers of young children in food-insecure households. This group was less likely to experience symptoms of maternal depression and less likely to be in poor health compared to mothers in food-insecure households not receiving SNAP. 

WIC helps pregnant women and new mothers access nutritious food, nutrition education, and health care. WIC increases the number of women receiving prenatal care; reduces the incidence of low birth weight, fetal mortality, and anemia; and enhances participants’ nutrition. 

CACFP provides meals and snacks to millions of children attending child care centers, Head Start programs, family child care homes, and afterschool programs throughout the country. CACFP supports good nutrition and quality care in early care and education settings. While at work, mothers can be assured that their children are receiving high-quality meals through CACFP.

Pandemic EBT is a new innovative program that provides low-income families with money on a new or existing EBT card to help fill the meals gap when schools and child care centers are shuttered during COVID-19. Looking forward, Pandemic EBT highlights an important strategy to get nutrition resources to struggling families when schools are closed during other emergencies, as well as during the summer and school breaks. 

Despite the many strengths of the federal nutrition programs, too many women are missing out and work remains to improve the programs’ strengths and reach. Key steps include

  • making legislative and regulatory changes to improve SNAP access and SNAP benefit adequacy so that families can purchase a healthy diet throughout the month; 
  • Boosting SNAP participation for eligible but non-participating women through outreach focused on places (health providers, certain low-income employers, child care providers) where most clients are women; 
  • making the WIC program’s defined package of food benefits healthier; 
  • making permanent the WIC program flexibilities allowing remote enrollment, services, and benefits issuance, and the facilitation of online ordering; 
  • mandating comprehensive WIC coordination and outreach to help every eligible family access the multiple benefits of WIC;
  • offering free school meals to all students to:
    1. support all students’ education and health;
    2. eliminate the cost barrier that struggling families whose income is near the cutoff line to receive free school meals face that can impede access to meals; and
    3. eliminate unpaid school meal fees and the stigma some children fear of being labeled “poor” by their classmates for eating school meals. 

The federal nutrition programs provide a huge boost to the nutrition, health, and well-being of women and their families, but alone are not enough to eliminate hunger. Food insecurity is the result of inequities in our nation’s economic systems, including those based on gender and other demographic variables, for example, race. FRAC stands committed to addressing hunger and its root causes for all people, particularly those who have experienced systemic oppression.