Massive food bank lines became some of the most iconic and disturbing images of the COVID-19 economy. Now, unemployment is dropping and the Biden administration has increased food aid—but advocates are warning that hunger remains a problem.
“Hunger is fading back as an unseen issue,” a spokesperson for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’ve seen a drop-off in volunteer numbers. We hope that now that offices are reopening, corporate volunteers will re-emerge and fill the gap.”
In the San Francisco area, 6.2% of people reported food scarcity between June 9 and June 21. Silicon Valley’s Second Harvest is still serving twice as many people as it did before the pandemic. CalFresh, a state nutrition assistance program, is serving 24% more people in the Bay Area than it did in the before times.
Even people who are back at work are likely to still be playing catch-up on bills that are past due or on needs that went unfilled for too long. Help with food lets them put their cash toward other things. “Getting groceries is a very fundamental thing when you have kids,” one woman told the Chronicle. “Right now I’m working, but I still feel the necessity to go and get food from Second Harvest. That way I can use the food money for other stuff my kids need or to pay my mom to take care of my kids while I work.”
In Delaware, the number of people experiencing food insecurity spiked to 140,000 during the pandemic, from a previous level of 105,000. It remains elevated, with 114,000 people still needing help with food. (And let’s be clear that food insecurity numbers in the U.S. before the pandemic were not exactly good.)
In West Virginia, Feeding America estimates that 19% of children are experiencing hunger. And this is a policy issue: “Nonprofits are not a sole solution to hunger, nor any social issue. Non-profits, for-profits and the government sectors all play a role in building food security,” the Mountaineer Food Bank’s Caitlin Cook told the Times West Virginian.
A recent poll in Massachusetts shows the complex factors heightening food insecurity. The MassINC poll of parents of K-12 children found that people who got government food assistance like P-EBT, which provides benefits for children who qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, found it very helpful. But many families that likely qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program didn’t get those benefits. Many thought their incomes were too high to qualify; others didn’t realize their families could get both P-EBT and SNAP. Others cited their immigration status.
Hunger was with us before the coronavirus pandemic. It got a lot worse, but going back to the status quo of the before times doesn’t mean the problem is fixed—especially with so many families left struggling to catch up to whatever already precarious position they were in before they had their support knocked out from under them. The Biden administration has made important steps toward more humane policies, but we have to ensure that economic recovery doesn’t bring with it the attitude that there are no problems anymore.
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