The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a far-reaching federal policy response that likely mitigated an increase in food insecurity in some U.S. populations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States, it became a stress test for the ability of the nation to feed those in need. As unemployment grew, work hours declined and schools were closed, some people could no longer access or afford food and other necessities. Early in the pandemic, a record number of households, including those with nearly 14 million children, reported not having enough to eat, with Black and Latino households being more severely affected than their White and Asian counterparts.
The federal policy response to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic took three forms:
There is evidence (e.g., from Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement data) that these changes helped to quell an increase in food insecurity, which often leads to other adverse health consequences.
Alarming disparities in food insecurity emerged early in the pandemic and have persisted, with higher rates seen among Black households (20%) compared with White households (8%) in January 2021.
Many of these relief measures are ending, even as new COVID-19 variants emerge and the economic recovery remains uneven. The pandemic policy response suggests promising approaches for increasing food security in the post-COVID-19 era. A longer-term extension of many COVID-19 policy supports until the next Farm Bill is adopted in 2023 or later would offer stability until discussions can occur around which changes should be made permanent.
To inform upcoming legislation, including the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the 2023 Farm Bill, researchers recommend that policymakers:
Preliminary evidence shows if many of the programs’ expansions, flexibilities, and new programming developed in response to the pandemic are continued, these changes could help address the structural forces that create food insecurity in the first place.
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