Food insecurity is already a huge problem for the U.S. In 2023, it may get worse.
In 2021, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, 33 million Americans lived in food-insecure households. That number was actually a drop from the year before, due to the expanded Child Tax Credit and other pandemic relief programs. But in 2022, hunger in America was again on the rise, after Congress refused to extend the CTC expansion past December 2021.
In the summer of 2022, 11.5 percent of people surveyed by the Census Bureau said that people in their household sometimes or often did not have enough to eat, up from 8.2 percent the year before, a 41 percent increase. Such hunger was even more prevalent among Latino and Black people, and among people living with children. (CHN has calculated similar percentages for every state and many metro areas; find them here.)
Now, those at risk of food insecurity, disproportionately people of color, people with disabilities, and unhoused people, face a triple whammy. First, there is the continuing threat of inflation. Second, there continue to be disruptions in supply lines, caused in part by the pandemic and in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And now, on top of all that, there is a severe winter storm in the U.S. (and the possibility of more severe weather in January) that threatens some winter crops, and delivery routes in the U.S.
Compounding the problem is that many food banks that were forced to close their doors in the early days of the pandemic remain shut down, Melissa Spiesman, Chief Operating Officer of Food Rescue US, told Axios.
“So, a lot of the resources that were in place before the pandemic, never really reemerged afterwards,” she said.
Spiesman said she anticipates that the current extreme weather in the U.S. will exacerbate the strain food-insecure families already face, while posing a threat to other low-income households who are at risk of becoming food-insecure. “When you’re just on the verge of it, everything is fragile and everything has an impact,” she said.
Meanwhile, anti-hunger advocates are giving Congress decidedly mixed marks when it comes to fighting hunger in the coming year. On a positive note, they commend Congress for expanding an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program that will enable millions more kids to have access to meals in the summer – important, because once schools shut down for summer vacation, many children go hungry.
“While these critical investments come with the disappointing early sunsetting of temporary COVID pandemic relief programs, they represent a historic step forward in closing the summer hunger gap that shouldn’t be passed up,” Feeding America said in a statement.
On a less positive note: under current law, SNAP recipients receive extra aid as long as the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, according to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). However, ending the higher benefits before Public Health Emergency is terminated, as called for in the end-of-the-year omnibus appropriations bill, “would hasten the hunger cliff for millions of people with low incomes as soon as March 2023,” FRAC said in a statement. “SNAP recipients of all ages will lose benefits, but the steepest cliff will be for older adults at the minimum benefit level who will have their monthly SNAP benefits fall from $281 to $23.”
Advocates hope some of that money can be recouped through new legislation, expected in 2023, reauthorizing the farm bill. Such reauthorization occurs every five years, and work on next year’s bill already has begun in earnest.