Ohioans are Increasingly Experiencing Food Insecurity, an Unacceptable Reality in 2020
The state of food insecurity in our country
May 8, 2020
By Katherine Ungar, JD Policy Associate
As a result of the public health emergency, food insecurity across the United States has drastically increased. By the end of April, more than one in five households say their children are not getting enough to eat, a rate three times higher than during the 2008 Great Recession. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one metric used to measure and assess the risk of hunger.
Food insecurity is a complex problem and often does not exist in isolation. Working families may face food insecurity for a countless number of reasons, including lay-offs at work, medical expenses, or an unexpected car accident or maintenance. The pandemic has exposed many families to this surprising and harsh reality.
Lauren Bauer, a Fellow in Economic Studies at The Hamilton Project analyzed the results of two surveys to get a clearer picture of the state of food insecurity in our country—the COVID Impact Survey and The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children. For purposes of the analysis, households and children are considered food insecure if the respondent indicated the following statements were often or sometimes true:
- “The food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have enough money to get more.”
- “The children in my household were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.”
By the end of April, more than one in five households say their children are not getting enough to eat and among mothers with children under 12, two in five reported experiencing food insecurity. In addition, rates observed in late April 2020 are higher than at any point for which there is comparable data (2001 to 2018).
Impact of Food Insecurity on Developing Children
Food insecurity not only can impede a child’s ability to develop and learn, but also can cause serious health issues. Children who don’t get enough to eat, especially those 0-3 years, are more likely to be hospitalized and face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma, putting them at a serious disadvantage at the start of life. Children who struggle to get enough to eat are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience development impairments in areas like language and motor skills, and face more problems in school and other social settings.
More must be done to improve food access
We cannot let food insecurity and hunger set our children back. Policymakers must do everything they can to improve and increase access to food for all of Ohio’s children and families.
CDF-Ohio recommends the following policy considerations:
- Expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by boosting the maximum SNAP benefit by a minimum of 15%. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed states to increase household SNAP benefits to the maximum amount and provided additional SNAP money for many families, additional SNAP benefits were not extended to those families that were already receiving the maximum allotment. This left out nearly 40 percent of SNAP households, many of which are the lowest income and have the most difficulty affording food. More than 5 million children reside in these households and have received no additional SNAP benefits during the crisis. Evidence from the Great Recession demonstrates the effect of higher SNAP benefits on lessening food insecurity among SNAP households and economists rate SNAP as among the fastest and most effective options for economic stimulus and recovery. The SNAP maximum benefit amount must be raised.
- Support families with young children by broadening eligibility for Pandemic-EBT. Ohio recently submitted an application for a Pandemic-EBT program in Ohio. Once approved, these benefits will be available for all children who received free or reduced-priced meals during the school year or who would qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. While this benefit can be distributed to young children who received free or reduced priced meals through attendance at an early childcare sites that participated in the National School Lunch Program, the benefits are not available for those who attended centers that participated in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
- Extend Pandemic-EBT Program to cover the summer months. Congress understood that many children receive a significant portion of their daily nutrition through school meals. The Families First Legislation provided for Pandemic-EBT programs to provide EBT dollars to children for food to cover the gaps in food due to school closings. Once Ohio is approved, P-EBT benefits will be provided in the amount of school meals (5.70 per day) for each day school was closed. Food insecurity and hunger does not disappear in the summer months. These benefits are needed more than ever in June, July, and August.
- Extend USDA waivers around school feeding. Currently, the USDA waivers that allow for grab-and-go (non-congregate feeding), for schools to provide children with multiple meals and meal supplements at a time to limit physical visits, or to allow partners or guardians to pick up meals and take them home to children will end on June 30th. Ohio must apply for extensions of this deadline until the start of the new school year. This is critical for maximizing food access, which is already critically low even in a normal summer and for continuity of service over a short 10-12 week service period.
As we are face an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, preventing childhood hunger must be at the top of our priority list.