An estimated 17 million American households reported difficulty getting enough food in 2022, a significant increase from 2021, when strong government support helped ease the economic slowdown. caused by the pandemic.
A new report from the Department of Agriculture, released Wednesday, paints a dire picture of post-pandemic hardship, with “statistically significant” increases in food insecurity in several categories. Using a representative sample of approximately 32,000 US households, the report stated that 12.8% (equivalent to 17 million households) reported having occasional problems providing enough food, compared to 10.2% (13.5 million households) in 2021 and 10.5% (13.8 million households) in 2020.
Food security analysts and professionals point to the double effect of high inflation and the gradual ending of many government aid measures during the pandemic last year.
“This shows how the disruption of pandemic interventions and the increase in food costs is felt,” said Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Food Research and Action. “It’s like a terrible storm for families.”
The number of households reporting more severe forms of economic hardship also increased. The report presented on Wednesday by the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture also tracks families with “very low food security,” a condition that refers to families who must ration food consumption and where ” “Normal food patterns are interrupted at times during the year due to lack of resources.”
The number of families experiencing this level of hardship in 2022 increased to 5.1% (6.8 million households), from 3.8% (5.1 million households) in 2021 and 3.9% (5.1 million households) in 2020.
The benefit increase and elimination of enrollment rules for SNAP—the basic government assistance program commonly known as food stamps—did not end until earlier this year. But a series of other federal and state pandemic relief efforts ended last year. A key change in the country advocated by Henchy is the end of universal free school lunches for all students, a policy that ends in mid-2022.
“They’re healthy, nutritious lunches because the schools have high standards,” she said. “He was very good with children. It has no stigma, and it’s great for people’s budgets.”
These findings largely reflect real-time anecdotes from late last year, when many food banks and charity groups reported that they were surprised by higher than expected levels of need leading up to the 2022 holiday season. In many cases last year, food banks and charities made rough estimates of how much food they would need to distribute, only to find that the predictions were low it’s just too much.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the survey results “unacceptable” and said the rising demand level “should be a wake-up call to those who want to turn back our anti-poverty and hunger programs anyway.”
Vilsack advocated for increased fruit and vegetable subsidies for recipients of the WIC program, an assistance program aimed at mothers and children. The increase in the WIC subsidy package is one of the few anti-pandemic policies that remains in place, even though there are proposals in Congress to reduce subsidies to pre-pandemic levels.
“The pandemic experience has shown us that if the government invests in meaningful support for families, we can have a positive impact on food security, even in challenging economic times,” Vilsack said in a statement last week. Wednesday. “No child should go hungry in America. “This report is a stark reminder of the consequences of shrinking our proven public assistance system.”