WASHINGTON – Many Americans who have struggled to feed their families in the past pandemic year say they have struggled to find how to get help and have struggled to find healthy foods they can afford.
An Impact Genome and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds 23% of Americans say they haven’t been able to get enough to eat or the types of foods they eat. they want. Most people with food issues signed up for a government or nonprofit food aid program in the past year, but 58% still had difficulty accessing at least one service.
And 21% of adults who have difficulty meeting their food needs have not been able to access any assistance. The most common challenge for those in need was a fundamental lack of knowledge about eligibility for government and nonprofit services.
Survey results paint a big picture of a country where hundreds of thousands of households suddenly found themselves food insecure due to the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic
They often found themselves navigating the intimidating bureaucracy of government assistance programs and with limited knowledge of local food banks or other charitable options available.
Black and Hispanic Americans, Americans living below the federal poverty line and young adults are especially likely to face eating problems, according to the survey.
Americans who struggle to afford food also feel less confident than others about their ability to afford healthy foods. Only 27% say they are “very” Where “extremely” confident, compared to 87% of those who do not face dietary challenges.
For housewife Acacia Barraza in Los Lunas, a rural town outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the challenge has been finding a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables for her 2-year-old son while respecting the family budget.
Barraza, 34, quit her job as a waitress before the pandemic when her son was born. She considered returning to work, but intermittent childcare shortages as the pandemic set in made that impossible, she said. The family lives off her husband’s salary as a mechanic while receiving help from SNAP, the government program commonly known as food stamps.
Despite government help, Barraza said she still scrambles to find affordable sources of fresh vegetables, actively browsing local markets for bargains such as a bag of fresh spinach for $ 2.99. .
“If we don’t always have vegetables, he won’t want to eat them in the future. And then I am worried that he will not get enough vitamins from vegetables in the future or now for his growing body. So it’s really hard. It’s just really hard. she said.
Even those who haven’t lost income during the pandemic find themselves stretching their food dollars at the end of the month. Trelecia Mornes of Fort Worth, Texas works as a customer service representative over the phone, so she was able to work from home without interruption.
She earns too much money to qualify for SNAP, but not enough to easily feed the family.
She decided to take distance education with her three children at home over fears about COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, which took school lunches out of the equation. Her job responsibilities prevent her from picking up free lunches offered by the school district. She takes care of her disabled brother, who lives with them and receives SNAP benefits. But Mornes said that $ 284 a month “Lasts about a week and a half. “
They try to eat healthy, but budgetary considerations sometimes lead them to prioritize cost and longevity with “canned soups, maybe noodles – things that last and aren’t that expensive”, she said.
Radha Muthiah, president of the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, said the difficulties reflected in the survey are evidence of a new phenomenon brought by the pandemic: families with no experience of food insecurity are suddenly in need, without knowledge of charitable options or experience in navigating government assistance programs.
“It’s all new to them” she said. “Many people and families, especially those experiencing food insecurity for the first time, don’t know all of their options. “
Many are reluctant to engage directly in government programs such as SNAP and WIC – the government’s parallel food aid program that helps mothers and children. Muthiah said reluctance often stems either from frustration with paperwork or, among immigrant communities, from fear of endangering their immigration status or green card applications.
The survey shows that overall, about 1 in 8 Americans regularly get their supplies from convenience stores, which typically offer less nutritious foods at higher prices. This experience is more common among Americans with dietary issues, with about 1 in 5 frequenting convenience stores.
Reliance on convenience stores is a particularly troubling dynamic, Muthiah said, as the options there are both more expensive and generally less nutritious. Part of the problem is just habit, but a much bigger problem is the lack of proper groceries in “Food deserts” that exist in the poorest neighborhoods of many cities.
“Sometimes they’re the only quick and efficient option for many people to get food,” she said. “But they don’t get the full range of what they need in a convenience store and that has a lot of negative health effects.”
The survey shows that half of Americans with dietary challenges say extra money to pay for food or bills is needed to meet their dietary needs.
Fewer consider reliable transportation or enough free food for a few days, such as in emergency food parcels, or free prepared meals at a soup kitchen or school as necessary resources to meet their food needs, although the majority states that this would be helpful.
Gerald Ortiz of Espaeola, New Mexico, bought a 2019 Chevrolet pickup truck before the pandemic, then lost the office job he had for 20 years. Now he’s scrambling to make the monthly payment of $ 600 and gets by with charity and just eating less. His unemployment benefits ended this month.
“I make sure that the payment for my truck is made” Ortiz said, as he sat in a line of around 30 cars waiting to collect food from a charity, Barrios Unidos, near Chimay. “After that, I, I just eat once a day” he said, pointing to her stomach. “That’s why you see me, I’m so thin now.”
He applies for several jobs and survives on charity and all the produce he can grow in his garden – peppers, onions, cucumbers and watermelons.
“It was depressing. It’s been, like, stressful and I have anxiety. he said. “Like, I can’t wait to find a job. I don’t care what it is right now.