The need to combat hunger is clear and urgent
Jul 13, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted vast areas of economic activity, led to skyrocketing unemployment, and pushed families to new levels of economic vulnerability.
Moreover, our nation has been galvanized by demands for response to the racial injustice that has long been part of our society.
The growing problem of hunger is one striking illustration of inequality and injustice. The long lines of people waiting for food speak to the inequities many face when it comes to accessing food.
While uncertainty haunts the pandemic, the need to combat hunger vigorously is clear and urgent.
In 2019, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped feed an average of 35 million Americans each month. Enhancing SNAP to reflect the sharp increase in need would require only a small fraction of the federal pandemic response. These dollars would flow through local communities, boosting small businesses and nonprofits suffering the pandemic’s effects.
U.S. Census Bureau data confirms the stark reality of food insecurity: 1.3 million adult New Yorkers live in households without enough food. Black and Hispanic households disproportionately suffer food insecurity.
Across New York, the need for food assistance has surged. SNAP beneficiaries in New York rose by 121,000 from March to April. In Monroe County, recipients increased by 2,300, reaching more than 114,000. In Suffolk there were 11,053 new beneficiaries; Erie 5,445; Westchester 4,092; and Rockland 3,000. New York’s SNAP spending jumped 62 percent to $575 million in April.
The Hamilton Project has found that food insecurity in households with children has more than doubled over pre-pandemic levels nationwide, with one in three reporting insufficient food in April.
Food banks have reported dramatic increases in calls from people seeking assistance, many for the first time. Some have run out of supplies and have turned people away. The Food Bank for New York City reported nearly 40 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens in the City had closed by mid-April, with the largest shares in the Bronx (50 percent) and in Queens (38 percent).
It is a daunting landscape, but there is hope. America has the food and resources to solve the problem. We have a well-developed nutrition infrastructure and national programs including SNAP, food support for women, infants and children, and The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
We have a network of nonprofit food banks that squeeze nutrition from each dollar and get food to rural, urban and suburban people. The State’s $25 million Nourish New York initiative is rerouting surplus from New York’s farms through food banks to reach people in need.
However, our food support network is under strain. While federal coronavirus relief bills have provided over $25 billion in funding for nutrition programs, more must be done. The HEROES Act would increase SNAP benefits and block efforts to limit their availability.
Much remains uncertain in these challenging times, but food insecurity is an urgent need we can and must address right now. Let’s feed our children, and all those battling hunger, through this crisis and beyond.