The COVID-19 Pandemic Hit Fresh EBT Users of Color Harder
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis has hit Americans hard. It has also laid bare the ways systemic racism means that Black Americans face greater challenges during times of crisis. Since March 2020 we’ve surveyed some of Fresh EBT’s over 4 million users on a monthly basis. We’ve uncovered great hardship, which in a number of ways is particularly pronounced for people of color. Here’s what we’ve learned.
With schools and places of work closed, low-income households, overrepresented in positions that could not easily transition to telework, suffered job losses, furloughs, and cut hours. While 22% of white Fresh EBT users said that since March 2020 they had lost or quit a job, 32% of Black and 28% of Latinx Fresh EBT users said the same. Asian and Black Fresh EBT users also said they had work hours reduced at a current or previous job due to the pandemic at a much higher rate--30% for Asian users and 27% for Black users--while 21% of white Fresh EBT users said the same.
Each month we also asked users to describe their current employment status. Month after month, Black and Latinx users consistently said they were not working and looking for work at higher rates than white households.
[They’re] laying people off left and right[.] I've already had three jobs in the past I believe for 5 months.
On average, 36% of Black and 32% of Latinx Fresh EBT users said they were currently not working but looking for work, while 24% of white users said the same.
Access to Benefits
The federal government responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic with a combination of new relief programs and expansions of existing social safety net programs. However, racial disparities also emerged in how these new and expanded benefits reached households. Perhaps the boldest solution offered--the three Economic Impact Payments, or stimulus payments--had an incredible positive impact on Fresh EBT users. Fresh EBT users told us how they were able to stock up on food, pay off debts, and help family and friends in need. But Black and Latinx Fresh EBT users reported receiving each stimulus payment at lower rates than white Fresh EBT users:
19% of Latinx and 15% of Black Fresh EBT users report not receiving a single stimulus payment, while only 11% of white Fresh EBT users said the same.
Even if Black and Latinx users did receive a stimulus payment, they were more likely to receive it late. 10% of Latinx Fresh EBT users had to claim the first stimulus payment on their 2020 taxes and 12% had to claim the second payment this way. Only 3% and 5% of white users had to claim the first and second payment this way, respectively. Black households were more likely to receive the first and second payments via mailed check or prepaid card, rather than direct deposit--30% received the first payment and 20% received the second payment this way, while 26% and 18% of white households received the first and second stimulus payments by mail, respectively.
Unfortunately, these racial disparities also extended to existing safety net programs. 25% of Latinx and 24% of Black Fresh EBT users lost and restarted their SNAP (food stamps) benefits in the past 6 months, while 18% of white users did.
Before we got taxes and stimulus we had to rely on family and friends to help get food until we got approved for foodstamps. We will be in that same boat again when my husband starts a new job and we are removed from snap
Borrowing to Get By
Facing cut wages and few and far-between infusions of government assistance, Fresh EBT users relied on savings and their personal networks to get by. Month after month we asked users if they had borrowed money or used credit to cover expenses in the past 30 days. Fresh EBT users borrowed at high rates throughout the pandemic, but Black households resorted to it at much higher levels. On average, 60% of Black Fresh EBT users report borrowing in the past 30 days, while only 53% of white users said the same.
In April 2021, we asked Fresh EBT users for the first time how much debt they were carrying, one year into the pandemic. A stunning 37% of Fresh EBT users owe back rent or mortgage. However, Black and Latinx Fresh EBT users are more likely to--45% of Black and Latinx users owe back rent or mortgage, while 31% of white users do. Black and Latinx users were also more reliant on borrowing from family and friends--55% Latinx and 53% of Black Fresh EBT users report owing family and friends money compared to 46% of white users.
Finally, Black Fresh EBT users reported the highest levels of owing on their utilities and other bills--68% of Black users owe on utilities and other bills, while 57% of white users do.
Having to borrow money to make rent payments paying for transportation and still having to buy basic necessities and food just to make it through the month due [to] lack of income and the pandemic[.] [I]t’s very hard to keep up with everything
The lack of employment, uneven access to economic relief, and accumulation of debt has devastating consequences for Fresh EBT users. In April 2021, 37% of Fresh EBT users expressed some uncertainty about being able to stay in their current housing situation for the next 30 days.
However, 46% of Latinx and 41% of Black Fresh EBT users were uncertain about their housing, while 29% of white users were. Black and Latinx users were also more likely to have been evicted than white users in the past 30 days--6% of Black and Latinx Fresh EBT users said they had been evicted, while 3% of white users did.
Black & Latinx
Evicted last 30 days
Evicted last 30 days
In addition, Black, Latinx, and Native American users were more likely to have had their utilities shut off in the past 30 days than white Fresh EBT users. 13% of Native American users, 11% of Black users, and 9% of Latinx users had their utilities shut off, while 6% of white users faced the same.
“Me desalojaron de mi hogar por orden judicial ... vivo en la casa de mis suegros actúalmente ... y [h]e sufrido ataques de ansiedad hace meses”
“I was evicted from my home by court order...I now live in my in-laws’ house...and I’ve been suffering from anxiety attacks for months”
As lawmakers continue to address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, they cannot avoid the disparate ways the crisis has affected low-income households. The impact of social safety net programs is only as good as their execution, and families of color face unique difficulties in accessing them.
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