Hunger in Massachusetts
‘We’re built to do this’: As food insecurity rises in Mass., food providers adjust (Boston, June 26th)
- In response to Covid-19, Project Bread has received more calls from food insecure households wondering how they can get help to sustain their families during this time. Food pantries too, have witnessed the surge in Massachusetts hunger. While our efforts have shifted to meet the demand, we are also expecting an upcoming surge in need as the federal government $600 per week for those on unemployment will expire at the end of July.
- Even as the number of COVID-19 cases decrease in Massachusetts, food insecurity levels are likely to remain elevated over the coming months, and possibly years, as our economy recovers.
Disparate Impact of Hunger
Black Communities Face Wider Food Shortfalls as Covid Saps Jobs (Bloomberg Government, June 16th)
- Black households already experienced the highest racial rate of food insecurity before the pandemic hit, attributed to low-wage work and the lack of affordable housing that compounds the racial wealth gap. Covid-19 has further magnified the disparity of food insecurity that faces communities of color across our nation.
- Part of the problem seems to be the existence of food deserts--areas lacking healthy, affordable food. A means to address this has advocates supporting the expansion of SNAP to allow recipients to order their groceries online with delivery options. Not only does it allow SNAP to achieve its goal of reducing hunger, but it increases individuals’ purchasing power by giving them additional means to access food.
- The strength of federal food programs will remain critical to fight food insecurity throughout the pandemic and long after, so Project Bread and others are advocating for increases in SNAP, such as increasing the maximum benefit by 15%.
Vast Federal Aid Has Capped Rise in Poverty, Studies Find (The New York Times, June 21st)
- At the beginning of the pandemic, researchers projected a large increase in poverty that would have included some 12 million people being pushed into poverty. But with the help of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, federal assistance programs have helped keep millions out of poverty.
- Increases to certain programs, like unemployment compensation are set to expire at the end of the month unless Congress acts, leaving people uncertain how they will pay their bills.
- In fact, while poverty rates may have stabilized, they do not tell the full story. Food insecurity is twice its pre-pandemic rate and child hunger has risen even more. Similarly, there are disparate impacts of where that poverty is highest; for example, researchers have found that Latino and Asian communities stand to be at higher risk partly because of the ban on aid to households with unauthorized immigrants.
COVID-19 Has Heightened the Threat of Child Hunger, While Efforts to Prevent It Have Fallen Short (US News, June 16th)
- Congress took some early steps to address childhood food insecurity during the pandemic, especially through instituting P-EBT. The program allowed households with children who were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch to receive the cash value of those meals on electronic benefits cards. Unfortunately, only 15% of eligible participants had received P-EBT benefits by mid-May, which caused families to rely on other means of getting food at home.
- While the network of food providers, like food pantries, have adapted to growing demand, challenges and hunger persist. If and when children have to skip meals, there are major consequences that can change their developmental trajectories.
- SNAP has been a proven solution that alleviates hunger, but also stimulates the economy. And since some school-based programs are unavailable for the summer, SNAP is still the most promising program to fight hunger at this time.
School lunch as we know it is over. But for school nutrition directors, the lessons keep coming (The Counter, June 18th)
- With the uncertainty around guidelines imposed in school cafeterias if schools return in the fall, many are unsure what lunch periods will look like, or what they will cost. School districts project financial deficits this year to accommodate changes in food distribution and the cost of personal protective equipment for workers. Many fear that they will not recover from those losses without federal assistance.
- To meet the gap, a new coronavirus relief bill dubbed the HEROES Act could authorize funding for child nutrition programs like school lunch. At this time, it needs to pass in the senate, and advocates are outlining how integral school meals are to child nutrition amidst this crisis.
- In the meantime, the USDA has approved the extension of three notable school lunch waivers through June, 2021 that:
- Allow for non-congregate feeding to support social distancing.
- Allow parents to pick up grab-and-go meals without their children.
- Allow more flexibility around distribution times to better serve increased demand.
Why We Need SNAP Now More Than Ever | Opinion (Newsweek, June 15th)
- We’re calling on Congress to expand the maximum SNAP benefit in the next coronavirus relief package by 15% through this public health emergency.
- Poor-quality diets are an emerging cause of death for Americans, and in respect to the Coronavirus, we also know that those with underlying conditions, influenced in large part by poor nutrition, are at a higher risk for severe illness.
- SNAP prioritizes nutrition when providing food assistance, making the effort to ensure access to healthy food for low-income families during the pandemic particularly vital.
Free Produce, With a Side of Shaming (NY Times, June 25th)
- Throughout the pandemic, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had initiated his “Farmers to Families Food Boxes,” which is a program that supplies food banks with pre-packaged portions of dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables that are to be distributed to families.
- While intended to get food to those who need it, the boxes take away from people’s ability to buy their own food, and often do not contain enough food, or the right array of nutrients. What’s worse, with the food boxes come shame and lost autonomy.
- In the past, programs like food boxes have been in place, but they have never been as successful as food stamps, or SNAP, which allow people to buy their own food and regain their sense of worth.