Many Americans who struggle to feed their families during the last pandemic have reported that they had difficulties locating healthy food and finding help.
A poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 23% of Americans say they have not been able to get enough to eat or the kinds of foods they want. Most of those facing food challenges enrolled in a government or nonprofit food assistance program in the past year, but 58% still had difficulty accessing at least one service.
And 21% of adults facing challenges meeting their food needs were unable to access any assistance at all. The biggest challenge for those who are in crisis was the lack of knowledge about eligibility for government services and non-profit assistance.
The poll results paint an overall picture of a country where hundreds of thousands of households found themselves suddenly plunged into food insecurity due to the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many found themselves in a daunting bureaucracy with no knowledge of the local food banks and other charities available. According to this poll,
Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have food problems than those who live below the federal poverty level.
Those who are unable to afford food feel more confident about being able to eat healthy foods than those without financial difficulties. Just 27% say they are “very” or “extremely” confident, compared with 87% of those who do not face food challenges.
A homemaker, Acacia Barraza, lives in Los Lunas outside Albuquerque. Her challenge was to ensure her son has fresh vegetables and fruits while keeping within the household budget .
Ms. Barraza was a waitress when her son was born, but she quit that job to make way for the pandemic. Although she considered returning to work after the pandemic, it was impossible due to ongoing child care shortages. Her husband works as a mechanic and her family receives assistance through SNAP, also known as food stamps.
Despite the government help, Ms. Barraza said she still scrambles to find affordable sources of fresh vegetables, actively scouring local markets for bargains such as a bag of fresh spinach for $2.99.
” If we don’t have enough vegetables in our home, then he won’t want them to be there. Then I worry about his future health and the vitamins he will need to grow. It’s very difficult. She said that it was just very difficult.
Even those without income loss during the pandemic are finding themselves spending more on food at the end the month. Trelecia Mornes, Fort Worth, Texas works as a customer service agent by telephone so that she can work remotely.
She earns too much to be eligible for SNAP but not enough to feed her family.
She decided to do distance learning with her three children home because of fears about COVID-19 outbreaks in the schools, so that removed school lunches from the equation. Because of her work obligations, she is unable to receive free school lunches. Her disabled brother lives with her and receives SNAP benefits. She also takes care of him. However, Ms. Mornes stated that $284 one month “lasts approximately a week and half .”
They try to eat well, but sometimes budget concerns lead them to choose to save money and buy canned soups or noodles. These are more cost-effective and last longer.
Radha Mthiah is the president of Capital Area Food Bank Washington. She said that the struggle reflected in the poll were evidence of a new phenomenon caused by the pandemic. Families without any experience in food insecurity suddenly find themselves in dire need.
” It’s all new for them,” she stated. “Many individuals and families – especially those experiencing food insecurity for the first time – are unaware of their full range of options.”
Many are leery of engaging directly with government programs such as SNAP and WIC – the parallel government food-assistance program that helps mothers and children. According to Ms. Muthiah, reluctance can be caused by frustrations with paperwork, or fear that they might lose their green cards or immigration status.
The poll found that about one in eight Americans regularly buy food from convenience shops, even though they often offer lower-quality food and higher prices. This is more prevalent among Americans with food problems, as about one in five Americans visit convenience stores.
Convenience stores are more costly and less healthy than the alternatives available, which is why it’s so troubling. The problem may be rooted in habit but there is a bigger issue: the absence of good grocery stores in areas that are less populated.
“They are sometimes the best and most efficient way for people to get food,” she stated. “But they don’t get the full range of what they need from a convenience store and that leads to a lot of negative health outcomes.”
The poll shows half of Americans facing food challenges say extra money to help pay for food or bills is necessary for meeting their food needs. Few consider transportation and enough food for a few days to meet their food requirements to be essential resources. However, the majority of respondents agree that these could be useful.
Gerald Ortiz of Espanola, New Mexico, bought a 2019 Chevy pickup truck before the pandemic, then lost the office job he had held for 20 years. He now struggles to pay the $600 monthly payments and relies on charity or eating less. This month, he received his unemployment payment.
“I make sure my truck payment is done,” said Mr. Ortiz, as he sat in a line of about 30 cars waiting to pick up food from a charitable organization, Barrios Unidos, in nearby Chimayo. He pointed to his stomach and said “After that, I, I just eat like one a day.” “That’s how you see me He’s trying to get multiple jobs, but he’s surviving off charity and any produce that he can grow at home – cucumbers, chili peppers and watermelons.
“It’s been depressing. He said that it’s been stressful, and he gets anxiety. It’s like I cannot wait to find a job. I don’t care what it is right now.”
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Cedar Attanasio was reporting from Chimayo in New Mexico. This report was contributed by Hannah Fingerhut, AP polling journalist.
The AP-NORC poll of 2,233 adults was conducted August 5-23 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. All respondents have a margin of error plus/minus 3.2 percent.