COVID-19 Food Disparities with Minorities

The National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families has released a publication on “During COVID-19, 1 in 5 Latino and Black Households with Children Are Food Insufficient“.

Many Latinx and Black households with children are struggling to obtain enough food to feed their families during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing recession. According to data from the Household Pulse Survey, 19 percent of Hispanic households and 22 percent of Black households with children experienced food insufficiency this summer, compared with 9 percent of White households with children. Food insufficiency means that a household sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the past week. And racial or ethnic disparities in employment do not fully explain the differential risk in food hardship: Hispanic and Black households with children in which the respondent did not work due to COVID-19 were more likely to experience food insufficiency than comparable White households (Hispanic: 28%; Black: 30%; White: 20%), suggesting that employment status is only part of the picture.

Racial and ethnic disparities in our nation’s workforce, housing, and health care systems may have driven the inequalities in food hardship. About 1 in 7 Hispanic and Black workers were unemployed this summer, compared with 1 in 10 White workers. Hispanic and Black workers have also been more likely to contract COVID-19, less likely to have the option of telework, less likely to receive unemployment insurance, and less likely to be covered by health insurance. In addition, Latinx and Black families have had fewer assets such as savings or investments on which to fall back, and have been more likely than White families to experience housing hardships (such as evictions). Hispanic immigrant families face additional barriers to accessing government safety net programs. All of these factors can affect Hispanic and Black families’ ability to meet basic needs.

Children who live in households experiencing food hardship are at higher risk of health, academic, behavioral, and emotional problems than those who do not. Therefore, policies that address food hardship worsened by the pandemic are particularly critical. Several provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) aimed to help families access food assistance, but ended in September while the economy was still slow in its recovery. When in effect, each provision nevertheless included challenges. For example, benefits increases for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that reduces food hardship, were set to expire when states terminated their emergency status. In addition, although states could request to simplify SNAP procedures to make it easier for families in need to access these benefits, requests to extend administrative flexibility were sometimes denied. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) offered debit cards to families with children who were missing out on free and reduced-price school meals due to school closures. However, many states faced challenges getting the P-EBT to families.

Congress recently passed an extension of some of these provisions. To curb the racial disparities that have been widened by the pandemic and protect children from food insufficiency, the federal and state governments should continue or improve upon FFCRA’s emergency provisions, and should consider other policy tools, including income support and housing assistance programs.

Population: African American, and Latinx

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Date: 2020