Statement attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
WASHINGTON, September 15, 2021 — Millions of people in America were lifted out of poverty in 2020 due to investments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meals and child nutrition programs, unemployment insurance benefits and stimulus payments to support essential economic recovery, according to the latest release of income, poverty, and health insurance data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau also released The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2020 report, which takes a look at a key indicator of poverty, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). SPM extends the official poverty measure in a number of respects, including taking into account income from some of the federal programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the first line of defense against hunger in this country, school meals, and The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
According to the report,
- SNAP and the National School Lunch Program lifted 3.2 million adults and children out of poverty;
- WIC lifted 102,000 people out of poverty;
- Social Security benefits lifted 26.5 million individuals out of poverty;
- unemployment insurance benefits prevented 5.5 million people from falling into poverty in 2020; and
- stimulus payments moved 11.7 million people out of poverty.
According to the SPM, the poverty rate was 9.1 percent in 2020 compared to 11.8 percent in 2019. This is the first time the SPM has been lower than the official poverty rate. The SPM dropped while the official poverty rate increased, reflecting the impact of the expansion of the federal nutrition programs during the pandemic.
Boosts to SNAP have been critical to reducing the number of hungry households and stimulating the economy. For every $1 spent with SNAP, $1.50–$1.80 is generated in economic activity during an economic downturn.
Since March 2020, and with the help of waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, millions of children have been able to access the nutrition they’ve needed for their health and learning while schools were closed. These waivers allow 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. Families have shared how P-EBT served as a lifeline by providing resources to buy groceries when their children were missing out on free or reduced-price school meals due to school closures.
Women who have been pregnant or raising infants and young children have been able to receive critical resources and nutrition remotely through waivers from WIC.
The data show us that despite these achievements, the work is far from over and we must continue to build on lessons learned over the past year.
According to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage report,
- 11.4 percent lived in poverty in 2020 compared to 10.5 percent in 2019;
- the 2020 poverty rate was much higher for Black individuals at 19 percent and 17 percent for Latinx individuals;
- the Southern region had the highest average poverty rate at 13 percent followed by the Western region at 10 percent and the Northwest and Midwest regions at 10 percent each; and
- the number of people with full-time jobs plunged by 13.7 million last year.
It is clear that government intervention made a tremendous difference in the lives of many, and the number of households experiencing poverty would be far greater if not for investments in these programs. However, this unacceptable cycle of poverty and hunger will continue unless significant policy changes are made to address the systemic injustices in food insecurity, poverty, and health.
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.