Why does food insecurity persist despite pandemic-related expansions to benefits?
The federal government spent record-breaking amounts on nutritional assistance since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing SNAP benefits and launching Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). These changes made a significant difference in the lives of recipients--Providers users who reported receiving new or expanded benefits experienced lower levels of food and economic security. However, food insecurity has remained at high levels throughout the pandemic. In a given month, 41% of Providers users reported eating less, 32% reported skipping meals, and 29% reported visiting a food pantry.
We’ve been listening to the millions of families who use Providers and here’s what we’ve learned about the persistence of food insecurity.
Families were struggling before recent food aid expansions
I sure like getting the full amount. It really helped but I still ran out before it was time for more. But I did really like having the fresh stuff. It is almost impossible to eat healthy when you know there is not enough for the whole month.
Prior to March 2020, 37% of Providers users said their benefits “always” ran out before the end of the month. Another 28% said their benefits ran out “most of the time”. Unfortunately, many users still ran out of benefits always or most of the time a year and a half into the pandemic. In August 2021, 29% Providers users reported that over the past 6 months their benefits ran out “always”; another 28% said their benefits ran out most of the time. Any reduction in hunger during this devastating economic crisis is significant, but hunger persists.
In fact, over the past 6 months, 89% of Providers users reported spending additional money beyond SNAP, WIC, and P-EBT on food each month. 53% reported spending $100 or more a month on food beyond benefits.
The pandemic changed families needs significantly
The extra amount definitely helped, as gas and food prices have seen an increase, or an interrupted supply.
Not only were food benefits generally insufficient to cover a household’s dietary needs--before and after expansions to SNAP and the advent of P-EBT--but the pandemic raised the cost to feed a family. 76% of Providers users reported that they were spending more to feed their households than in previous years because food prices were higher. With school and daycare closures, children were home for more meals. 44% of Providers users reported spending more on food because their children were home more of the time. 31% said they spent more on food because they bought in bulk to minimize trips to the grocery store.
As a result, families ate fewer healthy and fresh foods, and had fewer choices in what they ate. 29% of Providers users reported having to buy less healthy foods (like fresh produce); 24% said they buy more packaged foods; and 12% said they rely on food pantries so they don’t get to choose what they eat, since the pandemic started.