SNAP Participants and High Levels of Food Insecurity in the Early Stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published in: Public Health Reports (2021). doi: 10.1177%2F00333549211007152

Posted on RAND.org on April 02, 2021

by Sameer M. Siddiqi, Jonathan Cantor, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Robin L. Beckman, Andrea Richardson, Matthew D. Baird, Tamara Dubowitz

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Objectives

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has disproportionately strained households experiencing poverty, particularly Black and Latino households. Food insecurity, which entails having limited or uncertain access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food, is a key pandemic-related consequence. We examined how people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have been affected by the pandemic, particularly Black participants and participants residing in food deserts.

Methods

Using survey data from a longitudinal cohort study of predominantly Black low-income adults aged ≥18 residing in urban food deserts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we examined changes in food insecurity and SNAP participation before COVID-19 (2018) and early in the COVID-19 pandemic (March-May 2020). We modeled changes in food insecurity from 2018 to 2020 via covariate-adjusted logistic regression.

Results

Food insecurity increased significantly among participants enrolled in SNAP and surveyed in both 2018 and 2020 (from 25.9% in 2018 to 46.9% in 2020; P < .001). Compared with cohort participants not enrolled in SNAP at both points, cohort participants enrolled in SNAP in 2018 and 2020 had the highest rates of using a food bank in 2020 (44.4%) and being newly food insecure in 2020 (28.9%) (ie, they were food insecure in 2020 but not in 2018).

Conclusions

Food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic increased among low-income Black households enrolled in SNAP and residing in a food desert. Public health recovery efforts might focus on modifying SNAP to improve the food security of people experiencing poverty.

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