The Recorder – Long-term programs needed as food insecurity increases in pandemic
Several counties in western Massachusetts experienced an increase in food insecurity last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring the importance of long-term programs serving those in need.
In 2020, food insecurity increased 45% in Hampshire County, 42% in Hampden County and 40% in Franklin County from the previous year, according to data from Feeding America, that were analyzed and summarized in the latest installment of Pioneer Valley COVID. Recovery dashboard, âSafety Net, Food and Hunger in the Pioneer Valleyâ. The online dashboard was created by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC).
âWhen families are faced with economic turmoil and issues like unemployment, their budgets are limited,â said Douglas Hall, data manager at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and senior researcher for the project. âAnd we explored the role played by local safety nets and the impact of food insecurity and persistent hunger among many families in the Pioneer Valley. ”
The episode is one of a series produced by the PVPC in partnership with the Pioneer Valley Data Collaborative, which highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in western Massachusetts.
The data dashboard also highlights the importance of state and region-wide safety nets, particularly the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) managed by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance and the foods distributed by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
âThere has been a real increase in demand for the services, some of which are kinds of routine services that are always there for people,â Hall said. “But there are also new programs or extensions of existing programs that are really helping people get over the worst of what has happened.”
The scorecard highlights that SNAP enrollments increased 32% in Franklin County, 24% in Hampshire County and 16.4% in Hampden County. As of March 2020, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has provided an average of 877,000 meals to 91,000 customers each month.
Data on SNAP shows a worrying trend: Enrollments remain significantly higher than before the pandemic, showing that many families continue to struggle even as some areas of the economy have started to recover.
But these figures also prove that government-funded relief programs are essential for families facing unemployment and food insecurity.
âHunger or food insecurity is completely preventable,â State Senator Jo Comerford, D-Northampton said. âThe fact that people are food insecure is a failure of the government. ”
Food insecurity is not a new problem. Before the start of the pandemic, nearly 40 million people were food insecure nationwide. But the pandemic, which sparked a wave of economic recession and job losses, has exacerbated the problem.
“The pandemic has just highlighted the disparities that already exist in this country,” said US Representative Jim McGovern, D-Worcester. âHunger was a problem before the pandemic. ”
Western Massachusetts shows trends similar to those seen at the state and national levels.
Project bread find that household food insecurity in Massachusetts rose to 19.6% during the pandemic, from 8.2% before the pandemic. Although the numbers have since started to drop, they are still far from pre-pandemic rates.
A survey conducted in September by researchers at New York University found that nearly 15% of U.S. households reported food insecurity at the start of the pandemic, up from 11% before the pandemic. Researchers surveyed 5,600 adults from across the country via social media.
According to Feeding America, a nonprofit that fights hunger in the United States, the pandemic has increased food insecurity, especially among families with children and communities of color. To 2021 report by the US Department of Agriculture found that the prevalence of food insecurity for all households with children rose to 14.8% in 2020, from 13.6% in 2019. It has also increased for black households non-Hispanic, from 19.1% in 2019 to 21.7% in 2020.
The report was based on data from an annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau and included 34,330 households.
Over the past year, state and federal governments have created and developed relief programs. New US Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds provide opportunities to invest in food banks and tackle food insecurity. The Biden-Harris administration also increased SNAP benefits and expanded the child tax credit.
But there is still a long way to go, according to local and state officials.
âWe have to understand that hunger is essentially a political condition,â McGovern said. âAnd by that I mean it’s a solvable problem. We just need to have the political will to do it.
Addressing food insecurity means not only focusing on a specific program, but also collaborating with other agencies and organizations. McGovern urged the Biden administration to establish a White House hunger conference involving all departments and agencies, to identify the “holes (that) exist in our safety net.” Collaboration and a holistic approach are essential to fight hunger, he said.
âIt’s not just a program, we need to look at a number of our systems and figure out how we can adjust them so that we can actually deal with this problem,â McGovern said.
Likewise, Comerford said the legislature must focus not only on the consequences of food insecurity, but also on its root causes. Systemic changes are needed to effectively fight hunger.
“(The Legislature) also cares a lot about the root causes of hunger and food insecurity, and that is economic instability, job creation, affordable housing, transport,” Comerford said. . âAnd so we also have to see food security in this intersection. ”
When talking about recovery, Hall said, it’s important to ensure that the programs implemented during the pandemic continue in a post-pandemic world.
“I think we’ve done pretty well, but we have to make sure that as we move into the recovery phase, we have to make sure that we end up in an even better place than where we started,” Hall said. âAnd we have to make sure that our recovery is fair and that we leave no one behind. ”
âPart of the relief provided by the US bailouts is short-term,â McGovern said. âWe need to look for long-term sustainable solutions to make sure people have enough food to feed their families. ”
Claudia Chiappa writes from the Boston University Statehouse Program in Boston.