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How the Pandemic Affected Food Insecurity and What Comes Next

January 03, 2024

Pandemic-era policies that expanded access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) led to a drop in food insecurity, but those gains have started to recede.

A new report, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, indicated food insecurity among low-income U.S. adults dropped about 5 percent during 2021 before rebounding the following year.

“The policy changes implemented during the pandemic were critical in alleviating food insecurity in some families and preventing worsening food insecurity in others, thereby demonstrating that, with strong policies, food insecurity can be reversible and preventable,” the researchers noted.

Here are five takeaways:

  • The findings:  Food insecurity among low-income adults declined from about 21 percent during 2019 to 15.5 percent during 2021. It increased to 20.1 percent during 2022.
    • SNAP participants saw a similar trend, with insecurity declining from 34.6 percent during 2019 to 21.6 percent during 2021. Food insecurity rose to 27 percent the following year, which was still below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Policy changes:  During the pandemic, Congress increased SNAP benefits by 15 percent and increased every household to the maximum benefit for their household size.
    • Changes to work requirements and time limits for benefits, and other application flexibilities helped support access to these benefits.
  • Assessment:  The researchers reviewed data from the National Health Interview Survey to compare food insecurity before and during the pandemic.
  • Notable:  Many of these changes expired during 2022, which saw the “the largest single-year increase (in food insecurity) since the Great Recession in 2008,” researchers noted.
  • Quotable:  “Evidence is mounting that removing these critical supports risks reversing progress made in supporting low-income families and reducing health disparities,” the researchers wrote in corresponding comments.

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospital community are focused on addressing social determinants that significantly affect health outcomes. This includes supporting policies and legislation that improve food security. Learn more about our initiatives to advance community health.

The report on SNAP and food insecurity is available online.