USDA Report Reveals Unacceptable Levels of Food Insecurity in 2020

Media Contact:

Jordan Baker jbaker@frac.org 202-640-1118


WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 — A report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) underscores the unacceptably high levels of food insecurity driven by COVID-19 during 2020, especially among Black and Latinx households and households with children.

Key findings from the ERS report:

  • Over 38 million Americans lived in households that struggled against hunger.

  • One in 10 households (10.5 percent) in America experienced food insecurity.

  • The rate of food insecurity for households with children increased from 13.6 in 2019 to 14.8 percent in 2020.

  • Black (21.7 percent) and Latinx (17.2 percent) households were disproportionately impacted by food insecurity in 2020, with food insecurity rates triple and double the rate of White households (7.1 percent), respectively.

  • In rural areas, 11.6 percent of households experienced food insecurity.

  • Rates of very low food security were 3.9 percent in 2020.

The data collection for the food security survey is complex and may have been disrupted by COVID-19. USDA recommends that “more research is needed to understand the dynamics of food insecurity and other food hardships in U.S. households during the pandemic.” These rates may underestimate the extent of America’s hunger problem. These findings may not truly reflect the rates of food hardship, given that most of the research during the pandemic indicates that food hardship has increased, but we know that things would be far worse without federal nutrition programs.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger. The study clearly shows that boosts to SNAP benefits have gone a long way in ensuring tens of millions of households across the country can better afford to put nutritious food on the table while also stimulating the economy, yet we see more needs to be done to address the racial and ethnic inequities in food and economic security. Households with children who missed out on school meals and child care were able to access meals due to child nutrition waivers issued by USDA that allow families to access free meals through alternative means such as “grab and go” school meal pickup sites. The new Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program helped lift millions of children out of hunger during nationwide school closures. P-EBT provides nutritional resources to families who have lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to school closures. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) improves participants’ health, dietary intake, birth, and health outcomes. During the first year of COVID-19, WIC waivers made the program and its services more accessible by allowing families to enroll and receive services via telehealth (includes phone calls, video chats, emails, and text messages). USDA has implied substantial investments in safety net programs like these may have contributed to mitigating hunger during the pandemic. However, more work needs to be done — 1 in 10 households is still unacceptably high. Greater investments are needed as more families face a looming hunger cliff. While SNAP baseline benefits were recently adjusted after years of inattention, supplemental unemployment benefits have expired, the 15 percent boost to SNAP benefits will expire later this month, and other pandemic-related boosts to SNAP could also end over the next several weeks. As millions of families struggle against hunger, we strongly encourage lawmakers to continue making additional strides to strengthen federal nutrition programs. Hunger is solvable. We just need the political will to make it happen.

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The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

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