While food insecurity declined overall, it rose in households with children – to 7.6 percent last year, from 6.5 percent in 2019. One likely explanation is the widespread school closings, a reminder that they are a major one , albeit an often overlooked role in service delivery, food aid plays.
Before the pandemic, Judith Bartfeld, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, found that school meals accounted for up to 7 percent of economic resources in low-income households. This financial contribution came close to that of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal government’s premier anti-hunger program that provided more than 10 percent of the budget but is larger and more visible.
“One of the great lessons from the pandemic is the crucial role that school meals play as part of the food security net,” said Ms. Bartfeld. “The value of school meals became transparent when the meals were dropped.”
School closings may also have indirectly increased food shortages by making it difficult for parents to return to work.
Pandemic-era programs include one to replace the value of lost school meals with electronic achievement cards. Research found that this reduced food shortages, although many states provided aid after significant delays. Congress extended the program into the summers of 2020 and 2021, and the Biden government plans to make the electronic benefits program permanent for the summer to combat the rise in hunger that typically accompanies school closings.
Most states participated in the summer program this year, with the exception of Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis declined without explanation to seek the $ 820 million the state could receive in federal aid.
The gap between black and white Americans is huge.
The long-term differences in food insecurity between black and white households had decreased in recent years. But last year they expanded again. While the proportion of white households suffering from food insecurity decreased by 0.8 percentage points, it increased by 1.6 points in Hispanic households and by 2.6 points in black households.