Statement attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
WASHINGTON, September 7, 2022 – The annual food security report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that hunger fell in 2021 compared to the previous year, underscoring the critical role that the federal nutrition programs play in keeping hunger at bay during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest ERS report reveals 33.8 million Americans lived in households that struggled against hunger in 2021, a decrease of 5 million compared to last year’s report on food insecurity rates.
Key findings from the ERS report:
- 1 in 10 households (10.2 percent) in America experienced food insecurity in 2021.
- The rate of food insecurity for households with children decreased from 14.8 in 2020 to 12.5 percent in 2021.
- Black (19.8 percent) and Latinx (16.2 percent) households were disproportionately impacted by food insecurity in 2021, with food insecurity rates triple and double the rate of White households (7.0 percent), respectively.
- 24.3 percent of single-parent households headed by women experienced food insecurity.
- Southern region states experienced food insecurity at a much higher rate than any other U.S. region. Nearly 11.4 percent of households experienced food insecurity in 2021.
- Rates of very low food security remained the same at 3.8 percent in 2021 compared to 3.9 percent in 2020.
We know that matters would be far worse if not for the federal nutrition programs and the critical additional investments that were made to combat hunger during the pandemic.
Boosts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have been critical to helping people put food on the table, while also stimulating the economy. SNAP is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger. Greater investments are still needed as more families face a looming hunger cliff as certain temporary boosts in SNAP benefit amounts and flexibilities in processing applications could sunset when the Health and Human Services COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration ends.
The free school meals offered to all children, no matter their household income, also were a game-changer for stretching family budgets while fueling children’s health and learning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers that made free school meals for all possible ended in June, eliminating access to free school meals for millions of struggling families who can no longer count on school breakfasts and lunches to help make ends meet. Eligible families received nutrition resources through the innovative Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program to replace school meals when schools closed due to the pandemic, as well as during summer vacation. The Child Tax Credit proved to be a lifeline for families, which allowed them to put food on the table; pay housing expenses, debts, and childcare; and supplement lost wages due to the pandemic. This critical resource expired in 2021 and left millions of families scrambling.
Flexibilities to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) during COVID-19 have made the program and its services more accessible by allowing families to enroll and receive services via telehealth (including phone calls, video chats, emails, and text messages). In turn, WIC participation has increased, and benefit redemption has eased. Moving forward, it is important to make these flexibilities permanent because they help modernize and streamline the WIC program and enhance the WIC experience.
There is still a long road ahead.
FRAC now calls on Congress and the Biden administration to build on lessons learned from the pandemic and work to strengthen these critical programs as the nation continues to recover from the fallout of the pandemic.
This September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health presents an important opportunity to build on those lessons and make ending hunger a national priority. Meanwhile, Congress must act quickly as time is running out to pass legislation that will ensure that critical child nutrition programs are improved, strengthened, and expanded so that all children receive the nutrition they so desperately need.
Hunger is solvable. We just need political will to make the investments needed to end hunger.
The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) 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.