Study: Food Assistance Falls Far Short of Meeting the Needs of America’s Food Insecure

By Joan McCarter

A volunteer loads food into the trunk of vehicles during a ''Let's Feed L.A. County'' drive thru food distribution by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and the office of Supervisor Hilda Solis on Friday, April 23, 2021, in Rosemead, California. (Ringo Chiu via AP)
A volunteer loads food into the trunk of vehicles during drive-thru food distribution in Los Angeles.

Congress stepped up for food insecure people in this pandemic, boosting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds by 15%. But that still left hungry people in 41% of U.S. counties where SNAP benefits fall short in covering the cost of meals by nearly 50 cents per meal. The boost to the program from the COVID-19 relief bills expires on Sept. 30, when the nation presumably goes back to the status quo pre-pandemic and when the maximum benefit in SNAP will fall short of low-income meal costs in 96% of counties. That’s what a new analysis from the Urban Institute finds.

The average cost of a low-income meal, the Urban Institute estimates, is $2.41. The maximum SNAP benefit per meal is $1.97. Nationally, they find, “the maximum SNAP benefit fell short of meeting monthly low-income meal costs by $39.99 per person. Among the 10 percent of counties with the highest average meal costs, the monthly shortfall is $69.75 per person.” That’s before the pandemic boost—the status quo that we’ll return to in five weeks.

“Our findings show the maximum SNAP benefit still leaves a gap in covering the cost of food for many families with low-incomes,” Elaine Waxman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said in prepared remarks. “About 4 in 10 households receiving SNAP have zero net income—if SNAP does not cover the cost of a meal, people in such households will be at high risk of experiencing food insecurity. Additional consideration of the geographic variation in food prices when setting SNAP benefit levels is critical to the health and well-being of the most vulnerable communities.” SNAP benefits are the same across the mainland U.S., whether in New York or Huntsville, Alabama—the least expensive place to live in the U.S.

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Biden Ready to Take on Decades of Inequity in How This Nation Built Itself

Joan McCarter

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 2: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House on April 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. According to the U.S. Labor Department, employers added over 900,000 jobs in March, up from 416,000 in February. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the plan he was introducing to “rebuild the backbone of America” would “bring everybody along,” he meant it. “Regardless of your background, your color, your religion, everybody gets to come along,” he said. What that means is billions of dollars to be invested in communities of color that haven’t just been ignored for generations of federal lawmakers, but harmed.

It’s a start at correcting those wrongs, with $20 billion dedicated specifically to “reconnect” communities of color that were bulldozed, paved under, and cut into parts by previous “redevelopment” and “urban renewal” programs that emphasized building highways to bring white suburbanites into cities by plowing through existing neighborhoods. “These highways were essentially built as conduits for wealth,” Eric Avila, an urban historian at the University of California, Los Angeles told The New York Times. “Primarily white wealth, jobs, people, markets. The highways were built to promote the connectivity between suburbs and cities. The people that were left out were urban minorities. African-Americans, immigrants, Latinos.” That’s one festering wound Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are committed to addressing.

“A lot of previous government investment in infrastructure purposely excluded these communities,” Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy director of Biden’s National Economic Council, told the Times. “So if you look at where we need to invest in infrastructure now, a lot of it is concentrated in these communities.” That includes the communities like Flint, Michigan, poisoned by the lead in their drinking water; Black, Hispanic and tribal communities existing alongside Superfund sites; and urban and rural Black, Latino, and tribal communities who have less access to affordable high-speed internet. The plan also dedicates $20 million to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for upgrading facilities, research infrastructure, and laboratories. The funding includes the creation of a new national lab at an HBCU.

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