WASHINGTON, September 15, 2020 — Between 26–29 million adults living in the United States reported that members of their households sometimes or often did not have enough to eat during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report commissioned by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Not Enough to Eat: COVID-19 Deepens America’s Hunger Crisis finds that Black and Latinx households, women, and children have been particularly hit hard during the pandemic. The report also underscores how the struggle to put food on the table would be far worse if not for federal nutrition programs.
“Hunger in America was at an unacceptably high rate before the pandemic,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “It is nothing short of shocking to see how COVID-19 has dramatically increased the number of hungry households in all corners of the country in just a matter of months.”
The report, authored by economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University, analyzes data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey from April–July 2020 to determine the number of adults who reported that members of their households sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat. The analysis looks at a narrower and more severe measure than the concept of food insecurity that is tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- In 38 states and the District of Columbia, more than 1 in 10 adults with children said they did not have enough to eat.
- More than 1 in 5 Black and Latinx adults with children reported they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in July 2020. This is double that of white and Asian households.
- Women have been more likely to experience job loss during the COVID-19 recession compared to their male counterparts, making them — and their children — more susceptible to hunger. Older adults without enough to eat are also more likely to be women.
- Among those with a high school diploma or less, 16 percent didn’t have enough to eat compared to 3 percent among those with a college degree.
- Twenty-eight percent of respondents with incomes below $25,000 per year reported not having enough to eat, up from 11 percent in 2018.
- Twenty-one percent of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic reported not having enough to eat. Workers also experienced a lack of access to food as 13 percent of employed individuals on the financial brink due to household income losses or expected losses reported not having enough to eat.
“This data shows more than just numbers, it’s about neighbors, family, and friends who can’t get the nutrition they need in order to live a healthy, productive life,” added Guardia. “Federal nutrition programs are providing hope and playing a critical role in providing people with the resources they need to fill their fridge.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves as the first line of defense against hunger, helping millions of households put food on the table. SNAP also stimulates the economy. For every $1 in SNAP, $1.50–$1.80 is generated in economic activity during a downturn.
School meals help provide children with the nutrition they need. The introduction and extension of child nutrition waivers have also helped fill a substantial nutrition gap left over from spring and summer school closures by providing families with options to access meals through alternative means such as “grab and go” meal pickup.
To further close the nutrition gap for children who lost access to school meals due to shuttered schools, FRAC worked with congressional leadership to create the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program where an EBT card provides families with children the funds to purchase food in place of school meals. Pandemic EBT alone has lifted between 3–4 million children out of hunger.
“Congress and the Trump administration must redouble efforts to get meals onto struggling Americans’ kitchen tables by immediately boosting SNAP benefits, extending child nutrition waivers throughout the entire school year, and extending P-EBT,” urged Guardia. “Greater investment in these proven programs are critical if the nation is to flatten the curve on hunger and stimulate the economy as the pandemic continues to unfold.”
Download the full report.
For 50 years, the Food Research & Action Center has been the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.