Hunger in America drops to lowest point in the pandemic

·3 min read

The nation’s hunger crisis is finally abating, according to new government data, with the number of Americans experiencing food insecurity dropping to its lowest level since the pandemic began.

Government support appears to be behind the decline, as Americans who need relief the most finally got it.

About 18.4 million — or 8.8% American households — reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days during the latest Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey period of March 17 - 29. That was down from 10.7% in the first half of March and marked roughly 4 million fewer hungry households.

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For households with children, which have been disproportionately affected by food insecurity, the latest data indicates that over 9 million, or 11.2% of households, reported food insecurity over the same time period, a decrease of 2.9 million.

The decline in food scarcity comes as qualifying households and individuals began receiving a third round stimulus payments under President Biden's $1.9 trillion relief bill. The government started delivering the cash injection of up to $1,400 per individual and $1,400 for dependents more than three weeks ago, around the same time the trajectory of food insecurity turned positive.

(Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University)
(Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University)

Welcoming the “very good news,” Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, cautions against claiming victory even though respondents of every racial and ethnic group reported lower food insecurity in the latest data.

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“I hasten to add that, while this is great news on the direction, there are still far too many Americans experiencing hunger and food insecurity,” she wrote on Twitter, estimating that 29 million experience hunger in their households and 60 million suffer from food insecurity. “We should not stand for this.”

Other help is on the way. Around 80% of states are delivering the supplemental weekly $300 in unemployment benefits to jobless workers enacted under Biden's plan. 

U.S. Census data concludes that 18.4 million, or 8.8% of American households reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat between March 17 - 29, marking roughly 4 million fewer hungry households than the first half of March. (Photo: Getty)
U.S. Census data concludes that 18.4 million, or 8.8% of American households reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat between March 17 - 29, marking roughly 4 million fewer hungry households than the first half of March. (Photo: Getty)

The American Rescue Plan also aims to address the country’s food insecurity and hunger crisis by extending the the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September 2021. Previously, it was extended only through June as part of December’s COVID relief package.

The package also funnels $1.1 billion worth of resources to stretched state SNAP administrative agencies over a three-year period to keep pace with the increased application volume.

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SNAP recipients will reap the benefits of a $5 million tech platform upgrade for beneficiaries to shop for their groceries online and integrate EBT cards with mobile payment.

Legislation to combat childhood hunger comes through the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program that is available to families whose children no longer receive free or reduced lunch since their school is now remote. The program also gives these families the cash equivalency for groceries and will continue through the end of the pandemic.

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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