(Source:The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on U.S. Hunger Relief Organizations report)

According to recommendations in a new survey analysis of more than 240 hunger relief organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should continue to deepen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, and continue to offer pandemic-era EBT benefits.

WhyHunger—an organization fighting to end hunger and advance the right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world—and the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center at Duke University recently released the analysis of survey. The report describes how hunger relief organizations coped with the demand for food during the Covid-19 pandemic, It addresses policy changes and recommendations to uphold long-term solutions for the emergency food system domestically.  

The survey analyzed documents showing how the organizations handled the pandemic from June through September 2020 while meeting people’s immediate need for food.

The survey analysis contains recommendations to the USDA, including making SNAP waivers permanent and making P-EBT permanent. Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) is part of the U.S. government response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through P-EBT, eligible school children receive temporary emergency nutrition benefits loaded on EBT cards that are used to purchase food. Children who would have received free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Act if their schools were not closed or operating with reduced hours or attendance for at least five consecutive days are eligible to receive P-EBT benefits.

“I think there were some pluses and some challenges,” said Suzanne Babb, senior co-director of U.S. Programs at WhyHunger in an interview with The Daily Yonder, adding that some people found it was difficult to get guidance around the emergency response and how to best communicate to people. “I think what people did appreciate was a lot of the SNAP waivers, in particular, that allowed additional emergency support that added the pandemic EBT for missed school meals, and the ease of administrative systems around being able to do it online and by telephone instead of in person.”

In addition to waivers, Babb said there should also be deeper systemic takes on solutions as well as supporting small-scale Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers who are usually growing healthy fruits and vegetables for people. 

“More support for them in terms of resources and subsidies, really addressing policy that creates an overabundance of processed food in particularly low-income neighborhoods, really helping to scale out the style of agro-ecological farming that is not only good for people, but it’s good for the planet,” she said. 

The analysis found that overall, the biggest challenge for hunger relief organizations was the loss of the volunteer base due to Covid risk. Over 80% of food banks and over 60% of other organizations lost volunteers initially. At the same time, 75% of food banks were able to hire more staff to compensate for this sudden reduction in workforce, according to the analysis. 

“For far too long the U.S. emergency food system has served as a band-aid for the chronic and overarching injustice of food insecurity in America,” Babb said in a statement. “As the pandemic and subsequent supply chain fallout further exposed the numerous fault lines in our current systems, it is apparent that immediate action needs to be taken to ultimately address the systemic challenges in play.”

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