October 22, 2021

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Nearly one in four people in the U.S. still struggle with food insecurity, poll shows

In the new poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, respondents were very clear about what would help them have enough healthy food: more money. Half said extra money was necessary to pay for food or bills, and another 39% said it would be helpful but not necessary. Other response options offered in the poll—reliable or accessible transportation, enough free food to last a few days, a free prepared meal with no prior notice, and meals that are delivered by a community service—drew well under half of people saying they were necessary, though in all cases a large majority said they would be either necessary or helpful.

Things have recently gotten worse for many people with the cutoff of expanded federal unemployment benefits. An expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotment expires on September 30, though it will be partially offset by a permanent increase in nutrition assistance coming into effect on October 1 after the Biden administration changed how the government estimates the cost of a healthy diet.

But even with the expanded unemployment insurance and added SNAP benefits, food insecurity was high. In fact, it was high before the pandemic. While food insecurity didn’t rise overall in the population during the pandemic, it did rise for some groups, including households with children and Black households. Food insecurity for families with children has risen, from 6.5% in 2019 to 7.6% in 2020. Among Black households, food insecurity went from 19.1% in 2019 to 21.7% in 2020.

The expanded child tax credit is now helping many of these families—and it needs to be extended in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. As Paul Krugman recently wrote in The New York Times, the lifelong damage of childhood poverty is such that any money spent to keep kids out of poverty is the fiscally responsible thing to do (to say nothing of the moral stakes).

“Lifting children out of poverty is every bit as real an investment as repairing roads and bridges. Indeed, the evidence for a big economic payoff to spending on children is a lot stronger than the evidence for high returns to spending on physical infrastructure (although we should be doing that too),” Krugman wrote. “In fact, the returns to aiding children are so high that the cost would probably be minimal even in narrowly fiscal terms—because helping children grow up into more productive, healthier adults would eventually mean higher tax receipts and lower medical outlays. Unlike tax cuts for the rich, aid to poor children would largely pay for itself.”

Politicians who don’t want to expand aid to children tell on themselves: It’s not about the money. They just want to punish poor people.

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