A lack of food has been an ongoing issue in American households, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding the problem — specifically impacting an unprecedented number of children.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau for June shows nearly 14 million children live in a household that is characterized by food insecurity.
In households where the breadwinner has experienced job loss or reduced income of less than $25,000, 36% have reported that they “sometimes” or “often” don’t have enough to eat.
“It's not just that you don't have enough food,” Lauren Bauer, Fellow with the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.
“It's that you don't have the money to go out to the grocery store and buy more, and you can imagine why that's spiked during the coronavirus,” she added.
Unemployment Plays a Role
According to the New York Times, more than six million people enrolled in the food stamps program in the first three months of the pandemic, as the crisis threw millions of people out of work.
It’s a time of unprecedented job losses where unemployment is over 11% and schools are closed. It gives kids less access to school meals at a time when many families are struggling to put food on the table.
“We've seen heroic efforts by schools and school districts to continue to serve prepared meals to children who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch,” Bauer explained.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is available to those in need of help buying food, raising the question of whether it’s failing people who need it.
Yet Bauer insisted the program is working. “In fact, all the evidence suggests it's an incredibly effective program for preventing food insecurity, but unlike during the Great Recession, Congress has not increased the value of those benefits for all households,” she said.
SNAP operates as an economic stimulus program. When families are eligible, they spend money on their groceries and put money back into the economy. Still, Bauer argued that cash is what families really need.
“It's grocery vouchers to go to the grocery store whether it's through SNAP or Pandemic EBT [electronic benefit transfer cards], which is specifically targeted to children who would have received free or reduced lunch at school,” she said. “That’s where Congress should be focusing its attention right now.”
Tracey Marx Bernstein is a senior producer for Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.