REPOST: It’s a SNAP: Addressing Food Insecurity in the Face of COVID-19

This post was originally published on February 12, 2021. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the largest single increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to date. Beginning October 1, SNAP benefits will permanently increase by 21%, or an average of $36.24 per person. This historic move by the Biden administration will help feed the more than 42 million Americans participating in SNAP each month. As the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to drag on, this piece is once again relevant.

By Emma Vinella-Brusher, Angles Managing Editor

Of all of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, one that has been at the top of my mind is the exacerbation of the already severe food insecurity problem we have here in the U.S.

Food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, was a health concern already affecting 35 million Americans, including nearly 11 million children, prior to the start of the pandemic. An October 2020 report by Feeding America projected a 15.6% food insecurity rate for the year, equal to 50.4 million Americans.[1]  In other words, 1 in 6 people, including 1 in 4 children, likely experienced food insecurity in 2020.

Here in North Carolina as in so many other states across the U.S., the coronavirus has had a disproportionate toll on Black and Latinx communities. In May, the Durham County Health Department found that Latinx residents (14% of the population) accounted for 24% of county COVID-19 cases, while Black residents (37% of the population) accounted for 42% of confirmed cases.[2] This disproportionate burden of COVID-19 outcomes on minorities stems from longstanding economic and health inequities. Prior to the pandemic, Black individuals were 2.4 times as likely as White individuals to live in food insecure households.[3] We can trace this heightened risk of contracting and therefore dying from COVID-19 back to related health disparities stemming from the harmful history of segregation and redlining here in the U.S.

NC Dept. of Health & Human Services, Weekly Case Demographics for Orange County, NC as of Feb 6, 2021

Many experts are concerned about the long-term inequitable implications of pandemic-induced food insecurity, as households with reduced incomes facing higher retail prices are likely to cut down on the quantity and quality of food consumption, with potentially long-lasting impacts on nutrition and health.[4] Beginning in March of 2020, Congress and the USDA have attempted to address this by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and creating a temporary Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program for low-income children. Further investing in this program, sometimes referred to as the nation’s “first line of defense against hunger,” is vital to addressing health disparities across the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the immense inequities in health outcomes in our nation, particularly related to race, and presents an opportunity for us to get serious about ending food insecurity once and for all.

So how can you, as an individual, help? Beyond urging your congressperson to expand SNAP benefits and the Pandemic EBT program, there are some great ways to get involved in our community here in the Triangle in a safe, COVID-friendly way (and donations are always a good option if you’re short on time!). Here are a few of the many opportunities right now, ranging from food sorting and packing, to meal delivery, to farming and gardening:

On Campus:

In the Community:

[1] Feeding America (2020), The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020

[2] Indy Week (2020), COVID-19 Hits Black, Latinx Durham Residents Hardest

[3] National Public Radio (2020), Food Insecurity In The U.S. By The Numbers

[4] The World Bank (2020), Food Security and COVID-19

Emma Vinella-Brusher is a second-year dual degree Master’s student in City and Regional Planning and Public Health interested in equity, mobility, and food security. Born and raised in Oakland, CA, she received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from Carleton College before spending four years at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge, MA. In her free time, Emma enjoys running, bike rides, live music, and laughing at her own jokes.

Featured Image Courtesy of Caio, Pexels