Is food safety net is working during COVID-19? – The Columbus Dispatch

Recent findings from the USDA Household Food Security and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Income and Poverty and Supplemental Poverty Measure reports show that temporary relief measures by the public and charitable sectors implemented in 2020 helped to respond to household hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This was thanks, in part, to the response from Congress, the USDA, state and local governments and the charitable hunger relief sector in enacting and investing in the nutrition safety net, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  Emergency Allotments, Pandemic EBT, Coronavirus Food Assistance Program  and other waivers, supports and flexibilities.

Because the impact of COVID-19 was so widespread that those who may have been left with fewer resources to fill nutrition gaps in other isolated experiences with food insecurity received greater access to assistance than they may have otherwise.

The response to the impact of the pandemic on food security was not perfect, but overall, it likely prevented many Ohio households from experiencing additional food insecurity.

Still, more than 555,000 Ohio households worried whether they would run out of food in 2020.

Consider these statistics from the reports mentioned:

  •  Nationwide, 10.5% of U.S. households reported food insecurity in 2020 — unchanged from 2019.
  •  The official poverty rate in the U.S. in 2020 was 11.4 %, up 1.0 % from 2019. This is the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines. In 2020, there were 37.2 million people in poverty, 3.3 million more than in 2019.
  •  However, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) rate, which reflects nonwage resources like stimulus payments, unemployment insurance and programs like SNAP and school meals, was 9.1% in 2020 — 2.6% lower than the 2019 SPM rate.

As we absorb the impact of expired pandemic unemployment compensation and prepare for the anticipated expiration of programs like SNAP Emergency Allotments, expanded SNAP eligibility for income-eligible college students and the temporarily expanded Child Tax Credit, Ohio anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations are urging Congress to make permanent investments in the nation’s social safety net.

Before the pandemic, we saw more families in need at the end of each month, when bills were due, SNAP benefits had run out and families needed help filling gaps in their budgets. We’ve seen this with temporary federal relief measures, too.

As families saw expanded  Child Tax Credit  and Pandemic EBT  payments in their accounts this summer, fewer households with children turned to us for emergency groceries. Investing in basic household security creates stability for families, allowing children to succeed.

We have witnessed for decades the growing pressure on hunger relief providers as wages and incomes have stagnated and public investments in family-supporting programs and policies have declined.

Meanwhile, as food prices rise and vulnerable groups like seniors, people living with disabilities and low-wage workers face impending benefit cliffs, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks is working to prepare for the next wave of demand.

We are here to fill gaps, prevent hunger and boost access to healthy eating options, but we can’t eliminate food insecurity on our own. We urge support for the permanent social safety net investments included in the Build Back Better Act.

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Congress must embrace what we have all learned, and what the data clearly tells us — more resources in the hands of families means less hardship and more hope.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt is the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.