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November 24, 2021 – The massive influx in federal spending on food and cash for low-income Americans during the pandemic has softened the blow of the national hunger crisis according to a new report by the nonprofit group Hunger Free America, based mostly on an analysis of federal data. The report was released today in a virtual press conference with Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America and Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY)
Nationwide during the pandemic, the number of people who “didn’t have enough to eat” over just one week soared to 24.1 million in April of 2020, then skyrocketed to 28.5 million in one week in December but dropped to about 17.6 million in one week in August 2021 before increasing slightly to 19.9 million in one week of September 2021, according to U.S. Census Household Pulse data analyzed by the report.
The 38 percent drop in food insufficiency nationwide between December and August coincided with a massive boost in federal food and cash aid. As just one example, federal spending on just the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which was called the Food Stamp Program before 2009 – increased from $7.6 billion in June of 2020 to $10.4 billion in August 2021, a 37 percent increase. While USDA has not yet released SNAP spending data for September of 2021, it is likely that it stayed at an elevated level. The slight increase in food hardship in October likely reflects that some pandemic-time boosts in benefits expired. The strong correlation between increased food benefits and decreased hunger is demonstrated by the chart below, which was created for Hunger Free America, pro-bono, by SAS, one of the nation’s leading data analytics firms.
“The massive, historic increase in federal food and cash benefits – delivered by President Biden and Congressional Democrats – significantly softened the blow of the hunger crisis during the pandemic. While tens of millions nationwide suffered mightily from food hardships during the pandemic – with countless numbers forced to skip meals, reduce portion sizes, and/or buy less nutritious but less expensive food – we didn’t face an actual famine like in the developing world because the government rapidly and effectively expanded the safety net,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America. “We are extremely grateful that our federal leaders provided these extra funds and benefits, and that State, County and City workers nationwide toiled under very difficult circumstances to effectively enable struggling families to access them. However, with 19.9 million Americans not having enough to eat in just a one-week period, we clearly have our collective work cut out for us to enact the public policies needed to end hunger and slash the poverty that causes it.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our hunger crisis, underscoring the importance of critical government programs that so many families rely on to put food on the table,” said Congressman Joe Morelle of Upstate New York. “My legislation, the HOPE Act, would break down barriers that exist and help families access the essential benefits they deserve. I’m grateful for the partnership of Hunger Free America as we work together to reduce food insecurity and create a brighter future for families everywhere.”
“In order for New York to come back, we need to bring all New Yorkers along, which is why my Administration is committed to doing all we can to fight hunger and food insecurity — and we know there’s much work to do,” said New York State Governor Kathy Hochul. “We’re focused on closing the benefits gap to ensure that all New Yorkers who qualify for assistance are receiving it, and we’re going to work directly with local governments and communities to make it easier for New Yorkers in need to apply for the stabilizing assistance they need to get back on their feet. Thank you to Hunger Free America and their members for the extraordinary work they do to fighter poverty, hunger, and food insecurity in our state.”
Other findings of the study:
- Nationally, 11.4% of Americans were found to live in food insecure households between 2018 and 2020, according to USDA food insecurity data analyzed by Hunger Free America. The states with the highest rates of food insecure individuals from 2018-20 were Mississippi (16.3%), Oklahoma (16.2%), West Virginia (15.6%), Louisiana (15.2%), and Kentucky (14.9%).
- 15.3% (nearly one in six) of all children in the U.S. lived in food insecure households. The states with the highest rates of food insecure children were Kentucky (21.0%), West Virginia (20.7%), Mississippi (20.2%), Oklahoma (20.2%), and North Carolina (19.6%).
- 9.7% of employed adults in the U.S. lived in food insecure households. That means that one in ten working adults in the country could not afford to fully fill their grocery carts all year.
- The states with the highest rates of food insecurity among employed adults were Oklahoma (14.8%), Mississippi (13.4%), Louisiana (12.7%), Alabama (12.6%), and West Virginia (12.6%).
- In the U.S., 7.1% of older Americans (one in 14), defined as people 60 years and older, lived in food insecure households. District of Columbia had the highest rate of food insecurity among older Americans at 13.7% followed by Mississippi (11.8%), Louisiana (11.3%), West Virginia (10.0%), and Kentucky (9.9%).
- Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Alabama were consistently on the lists of the top ten states with the highest rates of food insecurity for overall individuals, children, employed adults, and older Americans.
- 50 percent of responding food pantries and soup kitchens that responded to a nationwide survey by Hunger Free Americas reported that they served more people in 2021 than 2020.
The report includes detailed public policy recommendations at the federal level, including calling for the rapid passage by the U.S. Senate of the Build Back Better Bill, just passed by the U.S House, because it continues and expands the government pandemic social safety net. Said Hunger Free America CEO Berg, “Hungry Americans urgently need the U.S. Senate to pass the Build Back Better Bill, to not only prevent a relapse into the worst of the pandemic, but also to slash child poverty and hunger in the long-run. The bill is an important down payment on the broader economic and governmental steps we need to take in the future to finally end domestic hunger and ensure access to affordable, nutritious food for all Americans.”
The full report, “Surging Pandemic Hunger Stemmed by Government Safety Net Boost,” is available on Hunger Free America’s website: www.hungerfreeamerica.org