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Food insecurity for families with children hit an all-time high last year, in part due to an expanded government safety net during the covid pandemic that included universal school meals and the Child Tax Credit, reports the Ministry of Agriculture. But this great news is undermined by the fact that these programs are winding down, if they haven’t already.
What’s next is unclear, though the White House is addressing hunger issues at its food inequality conference on Wednesday, the first since the Nixon administration.
Grid looked at the data on child hunger and talked to experts about what works and what the United States should do next.
Families with children benefited from government assistance
At the start of the pandemic, food insecurity in households with children skyrocketed. In June 2020, around 16% of households with children – the highest proportion on record – said their children had not eaten enough in the past week. According to a study by the Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative of the Brookings Institution, black and Hispanic children experienced food insecurity at even higher rates.
This increase in demand for food aid has translated into an expanded and simplified government safety net, such as the extension of the child tax credit to more families, which had previously been hampered by regulations. and bureaucracy.
In 2021, the percentage of food insecure households with children fell from 16.1% in 2020 to 12.8% in 2021.
But some starving Americans have had less relief from covid relief programs. According to the data, the government’s aid efforts seemed to benefit families with children the most. In contrast, women and seniors who lived alone saw their food insecurity rates increase by 2.2 and 1.2 percentage points, respectively, from 2020 to 2021.
But even within households that include children, individual family members may be affected differently by food insecurity. Adults often bear the brunt of negative impacts.
Some parts of the programs were more effective
Poonam Gupta, research analyst for the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center, said some programs were effective at targeting child hunger, based on existing data.
Research from the Hamilton Project shows that the expansion of SNAP benefits – formerly known as food stamps – and the introduction of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program, which gave families with children equivalent to the value of school meals, for example, efforts have been successful in reducing food insecurity among children.
In the 2020 school year, P-EBT reduced the very low food security of children in SNAP households by 17% and food insufficiency by 28%, the Hamilton Project said. According to experts, other initiatives have proven successful:
The expanded child tax credit program: It offered the majority of families with children monthly cash payments — up to $300 a month for each child under age 6 and up to $250 a month for each child aged 7 to 17 — and n was not based on employment status as it was before.
“This program essentially reduces food difficulties by about one-fifth among families with children, with particularly large reduction effects for low-income families,” said Zachary Parolin, senior researcher at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the University. Columbia University, who recently co-authored a working paper on the subject.
The expanded credit also improved health and school performance, Gupta said.
Free universal school meals: Schools were allowed to provide school meals to children in schools. In the past, Gupta added, low-income families had to provide eligibility documents to be eligible; they didn’t have to when this program started, which meant that all children had access to it, regardless of income.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) Program: It has provided families with children with funds on EBT cards, equivalent to the value of school meals when school is in session. A Hamilton Project study found that in the first week following the distribution of P-EBT benefits in 2020, the proportion of children not receiving enough food decreased by 8 percentage points. It will last during the public health emergency and will be available until next summer.
Expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – “often the first line of defense for families,” Gupta said – saw a 15% increase in the maximum benefit between January and June 2021, before the expansion was extended until September 2021.
There were also other factors at play in reducing child hunger, Health Affairs reported in an article, beyond temporary policy measures. Families with children reported using charity food, such as through food banks (which received larger investments), at a 50% higher rate than those without children in 2021. Black and Hispanic families with children particularly benefited.
With the end of many of these programs, rates of child hunger are on the rise. So which programs are worth keeping?
The share of families with children reporting food insecurity increased by about 6.6 percentage points between April 2021 and June 2022, according to the Urban Institute’s quarterly health reform tracking survey. That the rise coincides with a decline in family support programs is hard to ignore, experts say.
“Rollbacks in key programs likely contributed to this increase,” Gupta said. “All of this points to tough times ahead for families without any type of sustained investment.”
That said, this reversal can be attributed in part to inflation – prices are rising at the fastest rate in four decades.
So what is the best way forward for the federal government? Parolin’s research led him to two main conclusions about which policy measures would be most effective. The first is not to make the employment status of the parent/guardian a requirement for assistance.
“Providing regular and timely assistance to children’s families that is not conditional on employment appears to be quite beneficial to their well-being,” he said.
Second, how the payments are distributed is important. Monthly payments to families are more likely to reduce food insecurity, unlike lump sum payments (like the one distributed in the spring), which are more likely to reduce housing hardship. A recent paper from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, co-authored by Parolin, found that families were more likely to spend monthly child tax credit payments on food, reducing the food insufficiency of families with children of at least 2.4. percentage points, the authors wrote.
“2022 has been a very tumultuous year for families, simply because of inflation which has led to increased financial pressures,” Gupta said. “We need to build on the successes of the past year – we have learned a lot from innovations, such as the extension of the child tax credit.”
“Continuing key investments in the social safety net based on the evidence we have already built up to ensure families are supported is really important,” she said.
What are the expected outcomes of the White House Hunger Conference?
Ahead of the start of the White House Hunger Summit on Wednesday, the administration released a statement outlining its plan to “end hunger and reduce diet-related disease by 2030.” Part of this plan includes an $8 billion commitment to private and public sector organizations to address these disparities.
Coming out of the conference, Gupta said, “We hope these pandemic-era innovations can be incorporated into ongoing programs that can reduce food insecurity in the future.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.