On September 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service released its annual report on the state of food insecurity in the nation. The data suggests that despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the share of households experiencing uncertain access to food due to resource limitations remained relatively unchanged from 2019. While the report does not explore causal connections, the large uptick in emergency federal food aid (along with other income supports) throughout the course of the public health emergency is almost certainly responsible for keeping increased hunger at bay. As the front line of the social safety net and a key partner fighting food insecurity at the local level, counties welcome continued federal resources for nutrition programs that support the health and wellbeing of our vulnerable residents.
According to USDA’s report, in 2020, just over 10 percent, or 13.8 million households, were food insecure, which means they had difficulty at some time in the year providing enough food for everyone in their household due to a lack of resources. While this overall figure is steady with 2019 data, it is important to note that households with children did indeed see a slight increase in food insecurity rates in 2020, from 6.5 percent to 7.6 percent.
Given the significant disruptions in employment and in-person school caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, public assistance as well as charitable programs are likely responsible for keeping food insecurity rates from permanently spiking during 2020. This includes the creation of the Pandemic EBT program and other flexibilities for children to access meals outside of school, historic increases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expansions to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and emergency funding for the Senior Nutrition Program.
Along with these direct federal resources, some 60 million people – or 1 in 5 US residents – received charitable food assistance in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the year before. County governments are also investing direct federal relief dollars in local programs and partnerships to combat food insecurity in our communities. Taken together, these additions to the social safety net appear to have had a significant impact in curbing hunger amongst vulnerable county residents. Counties are committed to continuing to work with our intergovernmental partners to improve access to healthy food across our communities.
- USDA Report: Household Food Security in the United States in 2020
- NACo Webinar: Fighting Food Insecurity During COVID-19 and Beyond: Key Updates for County Leaders
- NACo Toolkit: Tracking COVID 19 Relief for Human Services and Education Programs