Understanding the Impact of Food Insecurity

A COVID-19 Update: Fall 2020

The risk of experiencing food insecurity has risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With record numbers of unemployment claims, combined with higher rates of attendance at food banks across the nation, food insecurity is a reality for millions of families.

As governments impose strict guidelines on businesses and schools in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, the pressure continues to strain low-income households and working parents. Since most low-wage jobs cannot be performed at home, those workers are forced to make a decision: lose wages or continue working with the risk of infection. Moreover, school closures create an additional burden for parents, forcing them to pay for costly childcare while they work and their children are home, forcing them to account for the meals that are typically provided by the school during a normal school day.

Impact on the Economy

New York State's unemployment rate in September dropped from 10.6% to 9.4%, but shed nearly 363,000 jobs last month, a 2.3 percentage point drop from August (1). The Office of New York State Comptroller found that the lower unemployment rate was largely due to the decline in New Yorkers eligible to be counted as working or seeking employment (2), indicating that many New Yorkers have ceased searching for employment entirely.

Higher unemployment across New York State has impacted New Yorkers’ ability to afford adequate food. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for the week of October 14 - October 26, 2020, 54% of New Yorkers reported that they or a member of their household had experienced loss of employment income. For the same week ending on October 26, the rate of food scarcity was 9% higher for those who had reported lost household income (11%) compared to those that did not (2%).

From April through June, approximately 1 in 10 New Yorkers reported household food scarcity in the prior week, with the rate of food insecurity in New York State surpassing 12% in July - above the national rate, as well as neighboring states (3). While just a percentage point increase, this represents thousands of New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, an estimated 210,000 to 295,000 New York households have experienced food insecurity over the past months (4).

Impact on Households' Food Security

As unemployment and food insecurity have risen, so has the share of households relying on free meals or groceries to keep food on the table. In New York State, nearly 11% of New Yorkers reported that their households were accessing free meals or groceries in July (5). School programs and food pantries were the most used access points. Long Island Cares, one of the Long Island's most comprehensive hunger assistance organizations, reported a 73.8% increase of food insecurity on Long Island, and from March to September of this year, they have provided over 10 million meals (6).

Applications for public assistance also rose dramatically. According to The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), SNAP enrollment in New York State increased by 7.4 percent between March and July (7).

SNAP is an efficient and cost-effective way to help those in need and stimulate local economic activity. The supplement has brought an average additional food benefit of about $145 per household each month in New York State (8). During the last recession, for every dollar spent on the SNAP program, $1.70 was generated in economic activity (9).

COVID-19 Related Governmental Resources, for those that Qualify

Congress passed a Continuing Resolution that extended multiple provisions to help address food insecurity, childhood nutrition, and school meals, including Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) through September 30, 2021 (10). P-EBT provides nutrition assistance to children in the forms of free or reduced-price lunches through SNAP. The program has expanded eligibility to students participating in hybrid school models (online and in-person) and young children in child care facilities who were previously not eligible.

To learn how to get assistance and receive information on the emergency supplemental SNAP benefits, visit otda.ny.gov/SNAP-COVID-19. New Yorkers can check their eligibility for SNAP and apply online by visiting mybenefits.ny.gov.

Introduction: Let's Start With The Basics

Most U.S. households have consistent access to enough food for active, healthy living. Some households however, experience food insecurity at some point throughout the year, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food for all household members due to lack of money or other resources.

It Hides in Plain Sight

While housing costs, stagnant wages, and high taxes may dominate the day-to-day affordability conversations for many residents, food insecurity is also one of the harsh realities of living in our region.
In New York State, 10.8% of households were food insecure at least some time during the period 2017-19, just under the national rate of 11.1% (11).
Food insecurity also hides in plain sight in unexpected places, such as college campuses. A City University of New York study estimated that nearly 40% of undergraduates experienced some level of food insecurity (12)

Food Access is Important, too

Limited access to supermarkets and grocery stores may make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet. The USDA's Food Access Research Atlas maps census tracts that are both low income and low access and provides multiple ways to understand the characteristics that can contribute to food deserts, including income level, distance to supermarkets, and vehicle access (13).
Using the Food Access Research Atlas data, our office identified 13 census tracts in Nassau, covering neighborhoods in Glen Cove, Freeport, Hempstead, Long Beach, Roosevelt, and Uniondale in which over 67,500 people live more than a half mile from the nearest supermarket. Furthermore, three of these areas also qualify as food deserts because they experience low vehicle availability, which makes it even harder for residents to travel to the supermarket.
The highlighted areas represent a census tract with at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, living more than ½ mile (urban areas) from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store. Click any of the hightlighted areas to see demographic information for that neighborhood, including median family income, population total, and poverty rate.

Resources

Not having enough food for yourself and your family is stressful. There are resources to help.

Governmental Resources, for those that Qualify

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works to end hunger and obesity through the administration of 15 federal nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), address barriers to accessing healthy food. Studies show these programs may reduce food insecurity (14).
To learn how to get assistance from one of these programs call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 or, see the How to Get Food Help brochure.

Program Highlight
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food-assistance program in the United States and is the center of the federal food-assistance programs. It serves as the first line of defense against hunger and is established to reduce food-related hardship, such as food insecurity (15). 
In Nassau County, 17,641 households received SNAP benefits in 2019. About 3.9% of County households received SNAP benefits (16).
SNAP also helps local economy. In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have found that every dollar of SNAP spending generates roughly $1.54 in local economic activity (17).

Non-Governmental Resources

  • Island Harvest delivers a vital supply of food to counter the rising problem of food insecurity on Long Island. Contact 516-294-8528.
  • Long Island Cares provides nutritional food and support services for a network of more than 580 community-based member agencies. Contact 631-582-FOOD (3663).
  • The INN provides a broad variety of essential services to assist those challenged by hunger, homelessness and profound poverty. Contact 516-486-8506.

Work Cited:
  1. New York State Department of Labor. 2020. Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program, Nassau County, Unemployment Rate. Retrieved from https://labor.ny.gov/stats/laus.asp.
  2. Office of New York State Comptroller. October 28, 2020 Edition. New York’s Economy and Finances in the COVID-19 Era. Retrieved from https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/covid-19-october-28-2020.
  3. New York State Health Foundation. September 2020. NYS Health Testimony on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Insecurity in New York State. Retrieved from https://nyshealthfoundation.org/2020/09/17/nyshealth-testimony-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-food-insecurity-in-new-york-state/.
  4. Office of New York State Comptroller. October 28, 2020 Edition. New York’s Economy and Finances in the COVID-19 Era. Retrieved from https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/covid-19-october-28-2020.
  5. New York State Health Foundation. September 2020. NYS Health Testimony on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Insecurity in New York State. Retrieved from https://nyshealthfoundation.org/2020/09/17/nyshealth-testimony-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-food-insecurity-in-new-york-state/.
  6. Long Island Cares. 2020. Long Island Cares COVID-19 Updates. Retrieved from https://www.licares.org/uncategorized/long-island-cares-covid-19-updates/.
  7. Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. October 2020. "New York State Announces More than $100 Million in Additional Food Assistance for October." Retrieved from https://otda.ny.gov/news/2020/2020-10-19.asp#:~:text=The%20pandemic%20has%20had%20a,percent%20between%20March%20and%20July.&text=For%20more%20information%20on%20the,%2FSNAP%2DCOVID%2D19
  8. Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. October 2020. "New York State Announces More than $100 Million in Additional Food Assistance for October." Retrieved from https://otda.ny.gov/news/2020/2020-10-19.asp#:~:text=The%20pandemic%20has%20had%20a,percent%20between%20March%20and%20July.&text=For%20more%20information%20on%20the,%2FSNAP%2DCOVID%2D19
  9. Feeding America. July 2020. Feeding America Statement on the Release of HEALS Act. Retrieved from https://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/press-room/feeding-america-statement-release-heals-act-0.
  10. Teachers College, Columbia University. September 2020. "Congress to Extend and Expand P-EBT." Retrieved from https://www.tc.columbia.edu/tisch/blog/news/congress-extends-p-ebt/#:~:text=Congress%20to%20Extend%20and%20Expand%20P%2DEBT&text=Extends%20Pandemic%20Electronic%20Benefits%20Transfer,Nutrition%20Assistance%20Program%20(SNAP).
  11. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2019. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Overview. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/.
  12. The City University of New York. 2011. Food Insecurity at CUNY: Results from a Survey of CUNY Undergraduate Students. Retrieved from https://www.gc.cuny.edu/CUNY_GC/media/CUNY-Graduate-Center/PDF/Centers/Center%20for%20Human%20Environments/cunyfoodinsecurity.pdf.
  13. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2019. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Overview. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/.
  14. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP Boosts Retailers ad Local Economies. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/8-29-17fa.pdf.
  15. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2019. Food Access Research Atlas, Documentation. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/documentation/