Even with COVID-19 continuing to plague the country, Thanksgiving remains a time for people to connect with their families as best they can and reflect on the blessings they enjoy. But this Thanksgiving, amid a deep economic downturn, a shocking number of Americans will struggle simply to put food on the table.
As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach, just 44 percent of America’s families with children feel “very confident” about affording food over the next four weeks, according to new Census data, while about 10 percent are “not at all confident.”
Those sobering figures reflect severe, widespread food hardship across the country, as 5.6 million families with children reported that they struggled to put enough food on the table in the past week.
These alarming levels of food hardship will last through the holidays and beyond unless the president and Congress immediately provide broad economic relief, including a boost in benefits for SNAP (the food assistance program that we used to call food stamps).
Every day without a comprehensive economic relief package that includes robust food assistance is another day that policymakers are letting millions go hungry.
When compared to the period before COVID-19 sent the economy into a tailspin, today’s figures are particularly stark. In 2019, only 3.7 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” sometimes or often. Now, 12 percent of adults report their households sometimes or often don’t have enough food.
To be sure, the economic downturn has left large swaths of Americans struggling to afford necessities that extend far beyond food. Millions of Americans are struggling with rent, medical expenses, health care payments, and more. But food insecurity in particular is skyrocketing, with devastating effects both now and into the future.
Moreover, the effects are not spread evenly. Food hardship has hit Black and Latinx communities much harder than white communities. Black and Latino adults were more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their families didn’t get enough to eat — 22 percent and 19 percent respectively, compared to 9 percent of white adults.
The racial differences reflect long-standing inequities in education, employment, housing, and health care that often stem from structural racism, and that the pandemic is making worse.
The impact on children is especially alarming. Families with children are facing significantly higher food hardship, with 16 percent of adults living with children reporting that their household didn’t get enough to eat compared to 9 percent of adults without children.
When children don’t get enough to eat, it affects more than their short-term health. Food insecurity can have serious, long-term consequences for children’s health and well-being, causing behavioral issues, mental health conditions, neurological damage, and other health problems.
These problems, in turn, can lower children’s test scores, reduce their likelihood of graduating from high school, and limit their future earnings.
While food banks and charities across the country have done incredible work to keep families fed, they can’t do it all. The federal government must step in.
A robust economic relief package that includes a SNAP benefit boost would go a long way in alleviating the hardship. But a SNAP benefit boost, in particular, would do more than enable more families to afford food; it also would help the economy recover.
SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus. With higher benefits, families would shop for more food in local stores, helping to keep stores open and people employed.
In fact, SNAP was among the most effective, bang-for-the-buck stimulus measures in the 2009 Recovery Act in helping the economy recover from the Great Recession of about a decade ago.
Here’s the bottom line: families and children are hungry, and the economy continues to struggle from the deepest downturn since the Great Depression.
As policymakers return to the negotiating table on a new economic relief package, raising SNAP benefits is a no-brainer to help families afford adequate food and boost the economy.
After an incredibly difficult year, Americans should not have to spend Thanksgiving and the coming holidays worried about affording a decent meal.