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New report uncovers the link between hunger, poverty, health, and equity during the pandemic 

Statement attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) 

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2021 — The latest comprehensive data analysis on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in America was released today by the Food Research & Action Center. 

 FRAC’s report, Hunger, Poverty, and Health Disparities During COVID-19 and the Federal Nutrition Programs’ Role in an Equitable Recoveryexamines the linkages between hunger, poverty, health, and equity during the first year of the pandemic. 

“Our report is just another illustration of how historic racial disparities and inequality in this country fuel an unacceptable cycle of poverty and hunger,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “This will continue unless a wide range of policies are enacted to address the systemic drivers of hunger.” 

FRAC analyzed food insecurity and very low food security data from the annual Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS) in addition to food insufficiency data from the 2020–2021 biweekly Household Pulse Survey. 

According to the CPS-FSS data, in 2020, 

  • more than 38 million individuals lived in households with food insecurity or without consistent access to enough food;  
  • 21.7 percent of Black households were food insecure (8 percent with very low food security) and 17.2 percent of Latinx households were food insecure (5 percent with very low food security) in 2020 compared to 7.1 percent of White households who reported food insecurity that same year; and 
  • during COVID-19, the Black-White disparity in food insecurity increased by 3.5 percentage points and the Latinx-White disparity increased by 2.4 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. 

  The Pulse Survey data reveal persistent disparities throughout the pandemic: 

  • Black adults have had the highest rates of food insufficiency (sometimes or often not having enough to eat) compared to other racial and ethnic groups, ranging from a high of 25 percent in December 2020 (compared to a national rate of 14 percent and a rate of 10 percent among White adults), to a low of 14 percent in April 2021 (compared to a national rate of 8 percent and 5 percent among White adults). 
  • Thirty-five percent of households with an income of less than $25,000 experienced food insufficiency in December 2020, compared to 5 percent of households with an annual income between $75,000 and $100,000.  
  • As of August 2021, rates of food insufficiency were 25 percent for households making less than $25,000 compared to 2 percent for households making between $75,000 and $100,000. 
  • Thirty-five percent of individuals with less than a high school education reported food insufficiency in January 2021, compared to 4 percent of individuals with a college degree.  
  • As of August 2021, rates of food insufficiency were 20 percent among individuals with less than a high school education and 3 percent among individuals with a college degree. 

 Research has shown that systemic issues that lead to racial and ethnic disparities to hunger also have led to inequities in COVID-19 deaths. Native American, Latinx, and Black people have died from the coronavirus at a higher rate than White people. Native Americans were 3.3 times as likely to have died compared to White people; Latinx people were 2.4 times as likely to have died; and Black people were twice as likely to have died from COVID-19. 

This dire situation would be even worse if not for the federal nutrition programs. The report details how boosts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helped mitigate the struggle of putting food on the table while also stimulating the economy.  

Millions of children continued to access the nutrition they needed for their health and learning while schools were closed with the help of waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These waivers allowed schools to provide meals at no charge, no matter the child’s household income and in alternative ways. The innovative Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program provided eligible families with money on an EBT card to purchase food from local retailers. 

Women who were pregnant or raising infants and young children were able to receive critical resources and nutrition remotely through waivers from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) 

“The role of federal nutrition programs is more important than ever in ensuring people have access to the healthy food they need for their well-being, as well as getting our economy back on track,” added Guardia. “COVID-19 has been a proven experiment for how well the federal nutrition programs can respond in times of crisis, just as they have in normal times, but these programs alone cannot address the historic injustices that have plagued our country for far too long. In addition to strengthening the federal nutrition programs, we need better policies that ensure everyone has access to affordable housing, livable wages, and healthcare.”  

To learn more about the findings and policy recommendations, download FRAC’s full report. 

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The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.