Ending Summer Food Insecurity

More than a year into the pandemic, women of color continue to experience higher rates of food insecurity compared to white, non-Hispanic men or women. In May 2021, more than one in six Black, non-Hispanic women (17.1%) and Latinas (16.7%) reported not having enough food for themselves or their households in the past week. Women of color are also more likely to be behind on rent or mortgage payments. With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expiring this month and emergency rental assistance programs slow to distribute funds, families may experience increased food insecurity if forced to choose between covering the cost of food and other necessities. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides monthly benefits to low-income families, has helped prevent food insecurity from expanding further. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Child Nutrition Programs have adapted throughout the pandemic to keep children fed during the school year and summer. Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, barriers existed—only one in seven children who receive free or reduced-price school meals utilized the USDA’s Summer Nutrition Programs. 

There are several key federal nutrition programs available for families this summer, including increased investments from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA): 

  1. SNAP: As part of COVID-19 relief legislation in 2020, SNAP participants received a 15% increase in their benefits, which ARPA extended through September 2021. This means families nationwide receive an extra $28 per person per month—about $100 more per month in food benefits for a household of four. Find how to apply for assistance through your local SNAP office.
  2. Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT): Congress created the P-EBT program for families with children under 18 who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school lunch. Benefits are distributed equal to the cost of school meals for the period in which in-person school is closed. ARPA extended P-EBT to include summer benefits for families whose children qualified for free or reduced-price lunch during the 2020-2021 school year, are determined to be newly eligible, or children under the age of 6 enrolled in SNAP during the summer. Each eligible child will receive an estimated $375 benefit for the summer. This is expected to benefit almost 30 million school age children and 4.4 million children under the age of six. Learn how to access your state’s program
  3. Summer Food Service Program (SFSP): Every year through SFSP, youth ages 18 and under are eligible for free, nutritious meals and snacks without paperwork requirements. Pickup sites include community locations like parks, libraries, churches, and more. As with last summer’s operations during the pandemic, sites may still utilize waivers that allow pickup without a child present, home delivery, and offering multiple days of meals at a time. Recipients of P-EBT may still access food through the SFSP. Learning activities, arts and crafts, and games are often also available with meal pickup to keep kids active this summer. Visit the USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder, text “Summer Meals” to 97779, or call 1-866-348-6479 to find a site.
  4. WIC: The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program provides grants to states to supplement food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five. The temporary WIC Fruit and Vegetable Expansion from ARPA provides vouchers for children and adults up to $35 each per month for up to four months, a strong increase from the maximum of $9 per month for children and $11 per month for adults. This investment will help WIC recipients improve their food security and health during the pandemic. If all states utilize the funding available through September 2021, participants nationwide will receive an estimated $476 million in additional fruit and vegetable benefits. Find contact information for your WIC state agency
  5. Emergency Assistance: Families in need of emergency food assistance can visit Feeding America’s local foodbank finder. The USDA National Hunger Hotline is also available at 866-3-HUNGRY (866-348-6479) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET to connect families to emergency food providers, nutrition assistance programs, and other social services.  

While these resources can lessen food insecurity in the short term, we hope policymakers will improve these programs to provide more robust nutrition assistance to reduce food insecurity year-round. 

By Cara Claflin, Former Emerson National Hunger Fellow