EDUCATION & ACTION DURING COVID-19 SERIES
For people who are unemployed and low-wage workers, the struggle to make ends meet also means a struggle to put food on the table
The public health threat of COVID-19 has shown us now, more than ever, the importance of mutual aid and community care. As part of our commitment to speed equality and opportunity for all, MAP will be publishing a series of Medium blog posts that advance the conversation around vulnerable communities who may be particularly at risk to the effects of the virus and the economic downturn. In the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic that affects us all, this series will shed light on the particular challenges facing all of our communities, as well as resources from partners and allied organizations to support you through the pandemic.
The global health pandemic has drastically altered the American labor market and daily life for everyday people.¹ With so many businesses shuttered to protect public health, millions of families are facing dire economic circumstances. For those unemployed, as well as low-wage workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, the struggle to make ends meet has also meant a struggle to put food on the table.
Feeding America finds that 98% of food banks are reporting an increase in demand as thousands of people wait in long lines across the country. As a result of the pandemic, food banks are having to make do with fewer volunteers and donations of food — many from restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores that typically share unsold inventory. The current economic crisis is impacting families who are experiencing food insecurity² for the first time, as well as the many families who were already struggling, including the 11.1% of households that were food insecure in 2018.
People of color, women, seniors, and people living in non-urban areas are more likely to be food insecure:
- 22.1.% of Black households and 16.2% of Hispanic households are food insecure, which were higher than the national average (11.1%) in 2018.
- In 2018, 14.2% of women living alone experienced food insecurity; however, the percentage was nearly doubled (27.8%) for households with children headed by a single woman.
- 5.5 million seniors, or 7.7% of the senior population, were food insecure in 2017.
- Regionally, the food insecurity rate was highest in the South (12%) followed by the Midwest (10.8%), West (10.4%), and Northeast (10.2%).
Research also finds that LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ people of color and those with disabilities, are more likely than their peers to experience food insecurity. Data from several nationally representative surveys found that more than one in four (27%) LGBTQ adults experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families, compared to 17% of non-LGBTQ adults. Within the community, 42% of Black LGBTQ people, 33% of Hispanic LGBTQ people, and 31% of LBT women reported not having enough money for food in the prior year.
Many people who are food insecure receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),³ commonly referred to as ‘food stamps.’ As the Center for American Progress points out, LGBTQ people, especially those with disabilities, are more likely to receive SNAP benefits than their non-LGBTQ peers. In addition, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people with disabilities (29%) and Black (23%), American Indian (19%), and Latino/a (18%) transgender people were more likely to receive assistance from SNAP and/or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
But even with food assistance, it is important to note that households that receive SNAP benefits still experience financial burdens. What’s more, people who rely on programs like WIC are facing difficulty buying staples, because the brands designated as eligible have already been bought by other shoppers. As a result, the hoarding of essential food items has left many households wondering how they will get their next meal — not to mention household products like diapers and toilet paper.
Experiencing Food Insecurity: What You Should Know
Similar to the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is a federal relief package that gives states temporary flexibility and authority to modify SNAP and other nutrition programs during the pandemic. This includes increased access to children who otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals at school, temporary suspension of SNAP’s work requirements and the previous three-month limit on benefits for adults without dependents, and flexibility for WIC programs to serve families remotely.
If you’re seeking food assistance at this time, here are some helpful resources:
- Apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/WIC).
- Use the USDA Meals for Kids Site Finder to find local sites for parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children.
- Check to see COVID-19 waivers for your state from SNAP.
- Check to see COVID-19 waivers for your state from WIC.
- Call the USDA National Hunger Hotline to seek information on how to obtain food.
- Many food banks and pantries face an increasing need for volunteers and donations. If you’re able, find your local food bank to learn more about the response in your community and how you can help.
- If you’re able, help Meals on Wheels America deliver food to seniors.
- You can also donate to organizations helping to feed healthcare workers and first responders.
- Fill out the 2020 Census. Results from the Census play a vital role in helping federal, state, and local officials plan and evaluate funding for nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC.
¹ As of April 16, nearly 22 million people have filed for unemployment, with estimates of the national employment rate jumping from 3.5% in February to an estimated 13% in April, the highest level measured since the Great Depression.
² Food insecurity is defined as having limited access to adequate food because of lack of money during the year.
³ SNAP is the nation’s primary nutrition assistance program to help families afford adequate food while reducing poverty. In 2019, 38 million people participated in SNAP.