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The Impact of Federal Benefits on Food Insecurity During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Ethan Sulliva
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The Impact of Federal Benefits on Food Insecurity During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on food insecurity in the United States. A recent survey of low-income adults showed that food insecurity dropped nearly 5% in 2021 compared to 2019. This decrease is likely due to the benefits expansions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite worsening unemployment and economic loss, the federal government's increased spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may have contributed to this decrease.

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Food Insecurity and the Role of SNAP Benefits

According to data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), food insecurity decreased from 20.6% in 2019 to 15.5% in 2021. By 2022, food insecurity rates had returned to pre-pandemic levels, but remained lower for low-income adults receiving SNAP benefits. These findings underscore the importance of financial relief and nutritional benefits for vulnerable populations.

Effects of Expiration of Federal Benefits

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However, the expiration of federal benefits that were subsidizing nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in food insecurity in Massachusetts and across the country. Between 2021 and 2023, the number of Massachusetts residents living in food insecure households increased by close to 50%. The federal SNAP provided additional funds to combat the economic impacts of the pandemic, but the benefits expired in March 2023, leading to an increase in food insecurity.

Impact on Child Poverty and Income

The end of pandemic benefits in 2022 saw child poverty jump and income decline across America. The child poverty in the United States more than doubled and median household income declined. The official poverty rate for Black Americans dropped to its lowest level on record, and income inequality declined for the first time since 2007. The federal government expanded the child tax credit and sent payments to people who had suffered from the pandemic, lowering poverty measures in 2021. However, the expansion of the child tax credit expired at the end of 2021, and other pandemic-related benefits have expired within the past year.

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Food Insecurity in the Wake of Inflation

Despite inflation not being the main cause, there has been an increase in reliance on SNAP benefits in the US. Households with children have been particularly affected by the rise in food insecurity. The discontinuation of emergency SNAP allotments in February 2023 has further exacerbated the issue. High food and housing costs continue to impact American families, signifying a potential long road to financial recovery.

Addressing Food Insecurity

States like Massachusetts have taken steps to expand the universal school meals program to address childhood hunger. Communities, tribes, and organizations are also making efforts to address food insecurity through initiatives such as discount grocers, pay-what-you-can farm stands, and free school meals. Despite these efforts, there is a need for new legislation to address the food insecurity problem and the challenges in achieving that.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of federal benefits have significantly impacted food insecurity in the United States. The expiration of these benefits has led to an increase in food insecurity, highlighting the need for continued support for vulnerable populations. Addressing food insecurity, therefore, remains a critical issue that requires a comprehensive and sustained approach.

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