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Hunger Rates Drop as People Spend Stimulus Money on Groceries

Give a man a fish...and he and his family might get to eat a nutritious meal finally

Open food pantry boxes full of food Getty
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

We are here to report some breaking news that may come as a shock: Giving people money for food means they can buy food and thus not go hungry. Please take all the time you need to process this revelation.

According to Census data, initiatives to increase access to SNAP benefits and the stimulus payments have shrunk adult hunger rates from 11 percent in March to around eight percent now, the lowest level since the pandemic began. “Money helps,” Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told Politico. I’m no economist, but I will also give my two cents: No shit!

The pandemic has spurred unprecedented levels of food insecurity, as people lost jobs or fell ill. Food banks, community fridges, and other mutual aid efforts helped but quickly became overwhelmed. In December, an estimated 12 percent of Americans said they hadn’t had enough to eat that past week. And according to a recent report from Feeding America, “significant racial disparities in food insecurity which existed before COVID-19 remain in the wake of the pandemic. Feeding America projects that 21% of Black individuals (1 in 5) may experience food insecurity in 2021, compared to 11% of white individuals (1 in 9).”

But yes, money helps. Last summer, Census data showed 80 percent of households surveyed spent their first stimulus checks on food. And recent numbers show an 18 percent drop of adults living in households that either sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the two weeks after the mid-March stimulus checks went out. Those were part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which also expanded SNAP benefits and extended unemployment benefits. Taken with December’s $900 billion relief package, it’s an unprecedented (if still not enough) amount of money given directly to people.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently praised the dramatic decrease in hunger rates, and said the government should “take the lessons from this horrible crisis and let’s figure out how to turn it into something more permanent.” For instance, some advocates are fighting for free school lunches, which have been made widely available by federal waivers, to become permanent.

Making sure everyone has access to the most basic necessity required to live, on a planet where there is enough food for everyone, seems pretty obvious. But of course, the opposition insists that feeding oneself and one’s family must be a matter of “earning,” and that some people just don’t deserve food. It’s remarkably cruel, and as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic and beyond, poverty and hunger have little to do with how hard someone works.