While the virus is slowly declining with appropriate social distancing, PPE usage, and vaccine distribution, the sharp economic downturn and rise in food insecurity caused by this global health emergency is still a very real and pervasive issue today.
The rise in food insecurity
Food insecurity has doubled overall and tripled among households with children during the pandemic, according to research from Northwestern University. In 2020, the U.S. saw a rapid increase in the number of people struggling with food insecurity – a truly unfortunate development considering the food insecurity rate in 2019 was at a 20-year low. After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, and cities and states issued stay-at-home mandates and the closure of non-essential businesses, food insecurity skyrocketed. Feeding America estimates 45 million adults (1 in 7) and 15 million children (1 in 5) experienced food insecurity in 2020.
Many social determinants of health — the economic and social factors that impact a person’s health — have contributed to food insecurity during COVID-19, including:
- Income and employment – unemployment rose as high as 13% during the pandemic, causing people to begin rationing food and other resources.
- Health status and disability – many individuals with compromised immune systems and other chronic conditions began limiting in-person trips to food sources like grocery stores.
- Access to transportation – not all individuals have the means to reliably access nutritious food.
- Geographic location (food deserts and food swamps) – some individuals do not live in close proximity to healthy food sources.
- Nutritional awareness – some individuals are not aware of which foods support or worsen health, especially if they have a chronic condition with unique nutritional needs.
Additionally, there have been significant racial disparities among food-insecure communities. In 2020 food insecurity for black people rose to 21%, nearly double that of their white counterparts (11%).
According to Feeding America, an estimated 17 million people were at risk of “very low food security,” the most extreme level of food insecurity (disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake) in 2020.
Congress responds to food insecurity
Last year, federal and state governments and health plans took the following steps to address food insecurity and highlight the need for good nutrition during the pandemic:
- Congress passed several bills designed to mitigate the social, health, and economic effects of COVID-19—comprising of more than $6 trillion in appropriations.
- The Nutrition Services Program, authorized under Title III of the Older Americans Act (OAA), received a total of $720 million in FY2020 supplemental funding for nutrition programs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced changes allowing Medicare Advantage plans greater flexibility for nutrition benefits.
- Pursuant to section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) invoked its authority to waive or modify certain requirements of title XVIII, XIX, and XXI of the Act. Section 1135 waivers give Medicaid health plans the flexibility to offer certain benefits, including home-delivered meals, to members even if the plans had not filed for the benefit, or if there were provisions that would have otherwise restricted the plans from offering the benefit.
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) includes expansions in funding and authority measures to support various nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food programs for schools, food programs targeting vulnerable communities, and food charities.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act contains health-related provisions focused on the outbreak in the U.S., including paid sick leave, insurance coverage for coronavirus testing, nutrition assistance, and other programs and efforts. It also includes support for the global response.
Looking ahead at 2021
With expanded access to nutrition programs and a recovering economy and job market, food insecurity is likely to improve this year. Feeding America projects that 42 million people (1 in 8) may experience food insecurity in 2021, a slight improvement from the 2020 estimates. This improvement can be credited to a positive change in the U.S. economy as well as the response by the federal government to help mitigate this food crisis.
Furthermore, according to Forbes, President Biden has proposed increasing federal support for home-based long-term care by $400 billion over eight years. This is in addition to the one-year $12 billion increase in the federal contribution to Medicaid Home & Community Based Services (HCBS) that Congress passed as part of the American Rescue plan in early March of 2021. These two initiatives are the largest expansion of Medicaid HCBS the United States has ever experienced.
While it’s good news that food insecurity is projected to decrease this year, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is not yet over. Some of the most vulnerable people who experience food insecurity will continue to be impacted with a need for assistance in accessing nutritious, healthy meals for their family and themselves for years to come.
Mom’s Meals® can help
Did you know that many food-insecure individuals are eligible to receive home-delivered meals through Medicaid or Medicare Advantage plans, or through community nutrition programs funded by the Older Americans Act (OAA)?
Nourishing the body with the right foods can make a difference in one’s health and overall well-being. With delivery available to any address nationwide, Mom’s Meals offers a variety of nutritious, fully-prepared meals designed to provide condition-appropriate support for individuals who need it most.