Why the COVID-19 Crisis is Increasing Hunger and Poverty


To:                  Editors and Reporters

From:             Joel Berg, CEO, Hunger Free America   

Subject:         Why the COVID-19 Crisis is Increasing Hunger and Poverty


Unless the public, private, and nonprofit sectors work closely together to take immediate, bold action on food access and unemployment, the combined health crisis and economic collapse inflicting the nation will result in a sharp increase in the amount and severity of U.S. hunger, especially among children and older Americans. This memo proposes concrete steps necessary to prevent that from occurring.

This current crisis also focuses a glaring spotlight on the nation’s long-term needs for universal health care, paid medical leave, universal child care, and unemployment programs that better react to the unique employment patterns of the gig economy.

Why Coronavirus and the Economic Downturn will Increase U.S. Hunger

As was the case with Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, major natural disasters not only create more problems for low-income Americans, but they also rip the bandages off the previously covered-up pre-existing wounds suffered by people in poverty, enabling America to better see the full extent of the concrete harm caused by the nation’s astonishing inequality.

To make matters worse, this is the first time in modern U.S. history that a mass public health crisis is being combined with an economic collapse.

On normal school days, 29 million U.S. kids get federally-funded free or reduced-priced breakfast, lunches, or after-school snacks. For that reason, the only kids in America who don’t celebrate snow days off from school are hungry ones.

If schools close for weeks at a time due to the coronavirus, unprecedented numbers of children will go without school meals. Given the mass numbers of schools already closed, the emergency has begun.

What Government Officials and Philanthropic Leaders Can Do to Best Reduce the Hunger Epidemic

Given the limits of both the charitable response and the limits to kids going to schools to pick up food – as well as the reality that many families will lose food purchasing power due to job losses or income reductions of parents – the single most effective government response would be to enable low-income families to obtain more food they can purchase at stores and markets and eat at home through programs such as SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps) and WIC, which provides nutritional supplements to pregnant women and children under five. That needs to happen fast.

Read the full memo here: 

To discuss any or all of these points with Joel Berg, please contact Hunger Free America’s Director of Communications, Nicole Aber, at naber@hungerfreeamerica.org or 646-627-7741.