According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 22 million adults – 11 percent of all adults in the country – struggled to obtain the food they needed in the past week, including one in six households with children.
The Times reported that the administration has so far authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history, giving over $1 billion a month in increased food stamps and needy kids $1 a day for snacks. It also expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children.
“We haven’t seen an expansion of food assistance of this magnitude since the founding of the modern food stamp program in 1977,” James P. Ziliak, an economist at the University of Kentucky who studies nutrition programs, told the Times. “It’s a profound change.”
Dakota Kirby, 29, a single mother of two kids who lost her job at the start of the pandemic, told The Times she was struggling to make her $509 a month in food stamps last past three weeks and would have to ration her food to ensure her kids are fed.
The new measures have since given her family $930 a month from three support programs, or $10 a day for each person.
“That’s a big old jump!” she said, surprised at the news. “It will help tremendously.”
54 million or one in six Americans are projected to be food insecure by the end of the year, according to an analysis by Feeding America.
Feeding America, the largest anti-hunger organization in the United States, distributed 4.2 billion meals between March and October, with around 20% of its 200 food banks in danger of running out of supplies. This represents a 57% increase from last year, with around 4 in 10 visitors being first-timers, the Associated Press reported.
Almost 26 million people, or one in eight Americans, did not have enough food as of mid-November, the US Census Bureau found. A report commissioned by the Food Research & Action Center noted that 1 in 4 of those in food poverty typically had incomes above $50,000 a year before COVID-19, the Associated Press added.
The largest increases were seen among communities of color after they were disproportionately affected by high unemployment, infection, and death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five Black and Hispanic adults were struggling to find enough food while a third were behind on their rent, according to Forbes.
Several initiatives from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which received a $450m boost, are set to expire on December 31. The $4.5bn Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has provided over 120 million food boxes, is the largest and has already run out in some areas, The Washington Post reported.
The program has already gone through four rounds of funding; $1.2bn was awarded in the first, $1.76bn in the second, $1bn in the third, and only $500m in the fourth. In a statement, the USDA said that the $500m had “resulted in some non-profits being unable to participate and fewer box deliveries,” The Washington Post added.
Various organizations have lobbied Congress for a 15% increase in food stamp benefits as was implemented during the 2008 recession. Still, it has not yet led to any action, according to the Digital Journal.
Children have also been acutely affected, with Feeding America estimating that 18 million or one in four have gone hungry by the end of this year, a 63% increase from 2018, The Guardian noted.
Both the Supplementary Nutritional Program (SNAP) and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) help parents who no longer get free or subsidized school lunches. However, most P-EBTs expired at the end of September and some as early as July, Truthout reported. States can reapply but only Massachusetts has done this so far.
Meanwhile, if the SNAP increases currently under discussion in Congress are implemented, then each four-person family would receive less than a dollar per day as a maximum benefit. The House of Representatives passed a stimulus bill earlier this year to provide for an increase in SNAP benefits. Still, it has been bogged down in partisan squabbling, the Digital Journal added.
Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of No Kid Hungry, told Business Insider: “One of the things that is very frustrating is that so much of the discussion in Congress has been around the cost of legislation. There’s no discussion about the cost of not taking action.
“There’s a very robust body of evidence that shows that when kids miss meals, it affects their physical health, how they perform in school or don’t perform, their graduation rates, and even their lifetime earnings, so the cost of doing nothing is very high. I worry a lot that we are looking at a lost generation of American kids.
“It’s very frustrating that we’re nine months into this pandemic and the last legislation to help families was back in April. Congress needs to take action immediately. Families that are struggling now can’t wait and unfortunately for millions of families across the US, this is going to be the hungriest holiday season they will ever face.”
Experts believe that there is likely “more hunger in the US today than at any point since 1998,” when the US Census Bureau first began tracking food poverty, according to The Washington Post.