Americans are increasingly going hungry as the pandemic rages and stimulus expires

Stephanie Asymkos, Dhara Singh and Denitsa Tsekova
·4 min read

As Americans eat Thanksgiving leftovers, a growing number of Americans don't have enough to eat.

“Everyone is seeing the same thing,” Andrew Schiff, the chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Food Bank, told Yahoo Money. “As government emergency assistance is cut back, the lines at food banks are getting longer and longer.”

Schiff’s organization recently published a 2020 status report showing that 1 in 4 state residents experienced food insecurity this year, up dramatically from the 1 in 11 in 2019.

The report underscored another grim figure the Census Bureau released last week, showing that 12% of Americans reported not having enough food, the second-highest level since the pandemic began. In the third week of July, that figure hit a pandemic high of 12.1%.

Reading, PA - November 23: People wait in line to get turkeys. During the distribution for the Annual Alvernia University Turkey Drive Monday morning November 23, 2020 at their new downtown College Towne Location on Penn Street in Reading. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
Reading, PA - November 23: People wait in line to get turkeys. During the distribution for the Annual Alvernia University Turkey Drive Monday morning November 23, 2020 at their new downtown College Towne Location on Penn Street in Reading. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

The increased need is nationwide.

In Houston, the food bank there ran out of food on Saturday after serving 7,300 families with more still in line. The Los Angeles Food Bank is also struggling to keep up with the steady demand for food.

“We have increased our turkey purchases from three full tractor trailer loads of turkeys to seven full tractor trailer loads this year,” Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, told Yahoo Money in the run-up to Thanksgiving.

The surge in food insecurity is another devastating outcome of the pandemic that's ravaged the country for eight months, causing spikes in unemployment and poverty. Americans reported rising instances of hunger in the early days of the outbreak, and then generous government spending aid reversed that trend.

But now, after many government supports lapsed months ago, hunger is back — and set to get worse as a raft of other measures expire after Christmas while stimulus talks stall in Congress.

Both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs are set to expire on December 26 unless Congress reaches a stimulus deal.
Both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs are set to expire on December 26 unless Congress reaches a stimulus deal.

‘Households are going to struggle without further relief’

Other cracks are starting to emerge as well.

More than a third of Americans (33.9%) reported they’ve had a somewhat to very difficult time paying basic household expenses in the first week of November. That was the highest in the six weeks that the Census began asking the question.

The percentage of workers who expect to lose income in the next four weeks is at a five-week high, and housing insecurity is at a six-week high. Both measures are down substantially since the beginning of the pandemic when the economic fallout of the outbreak was less certain, but the fear is a devastating relapse as coronavirus transmission surges across America.

Coronavirus is hitting Middle America very hard. (David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Coronavirus is hitting Middle America very hard. (David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

"It is not surprising to see this because not only is the pandemic ongoing, it is worse than it was at any point earlier this year,” Gbenga Ajilore, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit for public policy research and advocacy, told Yahoo Money. “Thus households are continuing to struggle because the virus impacts every aspect of the economy. Until the virus goes away, the economy, and therefore households, are going to struggle without further relief.”

In the meantime, stimulus programs are key: While the volume of people seeking assistance from Rhode Island’s food pantries and meal sites jumped 26% early on in the pandemic, those levels dropped off after the CARES Act and other government support flooded much-needed aid to struggling Americans.

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The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, the increase in food stamp benefits, and the emergency pandemic food assistance program kept many families and their children fed and afloat financially.

“That made a tremendous impact in preventing widespread food insecurity,” Schiff said.

As local governments once again consider shuttering businesses in attempts to contain the outbreaks, the next two months could be bleak for many Americans until more help is delivered.

“We’re very concerned about people going hungry this winter,” Schiff said. “The most helpful thing is for Congress to pass another pandemic relief bill. That is right now the most urgent thing.”

Dhara, Denitsa, and Stephanie are reporters Yahoo Money and Cashay. Follow them on Twitter at @Dsinghx, @denitsa_tsekova, and @SJAsymkos.

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