Children’s food insecurity increasing during COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is driving up food insecurity among children nationwide, according to experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In an October 28, 2020 USA Today op-ed, four Harvard Chan School faculty members noted that the percent of U.S. households with children who are food insecure has doubled, from 14% to 28%, with communities of color most affected. An additional 2.5 million children have fallen below the poverty line since May. Every day, 14 million children are going hungry, they wrote.

Co-authors included Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science; Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy; Jessica Cohen, Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Associate Professor of Global Health; and Benjamin Sommers, Huntley Quelch Professor of Health Care Economics.

With many schools closed for in-person learning—limiting children’s access to free or reduced-price meals—and high unemployment, children’s food insecurity has grown to the highest level in decades, according to the authors. And while schools and cities are making efforts to provide meals for children at locations such as apartment buildings or along school bus routes, more needs to be done, they say.

The authors recommended that the federal safety net be strengthened—for example, by increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Noting that the Senate has so far failed to take up House legislation calling for a temporary increase in SNAP benefits and other funding to provide child nutrition assistance, they wrote, “It should be a national outrage that 14 million children are hungry in America. If we do not act swiftly, food insecurity will harm a generation of children, especially Black and brown children.”

Read the USA Today op-ed: Why partisan politics keeps 14 million hungry children from getting the food they need

Watch a Harvard Chan panel discussion about food insecurity and COVID-19: Food Insecurity, Inequality, and COVID-19