Survey: Unrelenting food insecurity during pandemic

One in five U.S. households say they often or sometimes run out of food, a persistently elevated level of food insecurity as the nation faces its fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Covid Impact Survey. “Despite some public benefits in place, this is still very high,” said Nick Hart, president of the Data Foundation, which launched the survey.

The food insecurity rate is roughly double the pre-coronavirus level, measured by the USDA, at 11 percent. Insecurity rates are highest among households with children, income below $30,000, without a high school diploma, and among Hispanic households, according to the latest round of questioning by the survey, conducted from May 30-June 8.

“Across the country food insecurity varies greatly with sampled regions above the national average including Louisiana, 37 percent, and Texas, 31 percent, while other regions like Colorado, 13 percent, and Oregon, 14 percent, are well below,” said a summary of the June results.

Seven percent of respondents said they received help in the previous seven days from a food pantry, the same level as in April and May. Food banks have been swamped by requests for help. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has toured the country to spotlight an administration initiative that buys surplus food from farmers for packaging into boxes that are donated to nonprofit organizations such as food banks for help to hungry Americans.

The Trump administration opposes a temporary 15-percent increase in food stamps. Anti-hunger advocates say higher SNAP benefits would alleviate hunger and act as an economic stimulus.

While 20 percent of households reported food insecurity in the past month, a slightly larger portion — 25 percent — said they worried about running out of food during the preceding 30 days. The figures were little changed from two previous rounds of the survey. Some 22 percent of households agreed in April and May that, “The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” Some 27 percent said in April and May, “We worried our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”

“Overall, food insecurity hasn’t decreased,” said Lauren Bauer of the Brookings Institution on social media.

In a series of tweets on Friday, Nick Hart said food insecurity “is a problem that policymakers can address.”

Although parts of the country began economic re-opening weeks ago, a large portion of Americans are leery of social outings. Some 72 percent of respondents in the June survey said they avoided restaurants, compared to 69 percent in May and 72 percent in April. In each of the three months, 75 percent or more said they avoided public or crowded places and one-third said they stockpiled food or water during the month.

“Suggest ongoing struggles for the restaurant industry to clearly articulate safety,” said Hart.

Results of the Covid Impact Survey are available here.