The number of Americans reporting hunger ticked up to the highest point in 2021, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau, but more government aid could help quell those numbers.
From February 3-15, 24.4 million or 11.4% of American households reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days. That’s up from the two preceding reporting periods that indicated hunger at levels of 9.6% and 11.3%, respectively.
Households with children continue to be adversely impacted with 12% reporting food insecurity in the last seven days.
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The levels are “lower than before, but still too high,” Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told Yahoo Money. “Overall, the food numbers suggest to me that there isn’t much movement in the economy.”
While down from its pandemic-era peak of 13.7% in December, the current hunger levels are similar to that of October and November 2020. But Schanzenbach noted that “the impacts of the December relief payments haven’t stalled out.”
“And I remain optimistic about our ability to push these down even more when P-EBT payments for missed school meals start rolling out,” she added. “We just heard that Illinois will start paying theirs in the coming weeks.”
Since December’s passage of a $900 billion relief bill that granted a second stimulus check disbursement to qualifying Americans, an extension of key unemployment programs, and an expansion of food assistance benefits, President Joe Biden went further by signing executive orders directed at alleviating the country’s food hardship.
As a result, the Department of Agriculture is modernizing and expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Thrifty Food Plan, and the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT).
The programs will expand increased SNAP benefits to approximately 12 million more people; recalculate the cost of a healthy diet to be more in line with current prices; and give money to families with school-aged children who no longer get free or reduced-cost meals because their child’s school is now remote.
If the president’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal passes Congress, more food assistance would be on the way. Under the plan, the 15% increase in SNAP benefits would be extended through September. Another $3 billion would be allocated to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and an additional $1 billion would go to U.S. territories for food aid.
[It’s] great to see this logjam being broken,” Dr. Schanzenbach said, “and the money going to families who need it.”