The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Federal Food Assistance Programs

Posted on by Susan Blumenthal, M.D.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Federal Food Assistance Programs

Food insecurity in the United States has significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods for enrolling, re-certifying, and distributing food benefits that had occurred in person necessitated their delivery with digital services during the pandemic because of lockdowns and supply chain issues. . This section provides information about changes to SNAP and WIC during the pandemic and the types of technology innovations that are needed to strengthen these programs now and in the years ahead. For more information on strategies to address food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic, visit this link.

When families needed assistance the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, many federal programs were challenged to provide their services remotely. To meet new health and safety requirements, federal food assistance programs including SNAP and WIC implemented technology innovations to deliver services to their participants. Many of these innovations proved valuable for families and should be made permanent when there is no longer a public health crisis. Going forward digital services for enrollment, re-certification, education, food shopping and other services that have made the program more convenient and easier to use should be balanced with in-person services in hybrid models that maintain program integrity while at the same time modernizing services to better serve participants. As SNAP and WIC integrate technology into their programs, the enhancements should be done with an equity lens so that benefits can be easily accessed by the diverse populations that these programs serve. 

Food insecurity during COVID-19

Nutrition is linked to mental and physical health as well as long term achievement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has significantly increased in the United States. In 2021, as many as 42 million people and 13 million children experienced food insecurity. At the beginning of the pandemic, with lockdowns occurring in many cities, Federal food assistance benefits and services were difficult to access. At the beginning of the pandemic, food shortages in grocery stores threatened to prevent families enrolled in SNAP and WIC from obtaining their benefits. Food banks faced an unprecedented demand for scarce supplies.  At the same time, about 42% of Americans have gained unwanted weight during the pandemic—on average, 29 pounds.

COVID Hardship Watch

This site provides an analysis of data on the interrelated challenges that families face during the COVID-pandemic including food insecurity, falling behind on paying rent, unemployment, and other hardships. The site provides important information about the inequities experienced by people of color and other vulnerable populations. Learn more about these issue here

Comments are closed.