Worry. Stress. Covid.
Worry. Stress. Covid. Based on Google search trends, many of us have been reaching out for resources to help cope with the stresses and worries exacerbated or created by the pandemic. Stresses and worries can be damaging to our physical and mental health. One particular stress for many Californians: running out of money to buy food.
Over the past 12 months, nearly three-quarters of Californians with low or moderate income have worried about running out of food before they had money to buy more, according to a recent statewide survey conducted by FM3 Research. Again, stress and worries can be harmful and insidious.
But for so many Californians running out of food is not just a worry, it is a reality. The same statewide survey showed more than three in five respondents had actually run out of food before their households could afford to buy more. Not having enough food thwarts the development of young children, threatens the success of students, undermines the well-being of adults, and prevents elders from aging with dignity and good health.
So what can be done? A good place to start would be addressing the root causes that drive the inequities that were exacerbated during the pandemic.
For example, immigrants, regardless of their status, are an essential part of our state. They are our family, neighbors, friends, the frontline workers who keep us safe, the teachers who educate our kids, and the healthcare professionals who put their lives on the line to heal others. Yet, many immigrants have been excluded from accessing essential services that promote economic security, such as food and healthcare. Removing the unjust exclusion of immigrants from CalFresh will provide greater access to food and help more Californians share in the State’s prosperity.
During the pandemic, Black households in California were 3.5 more likely to report food insufficiency than white households in data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. And Latinx households were 2.5 times more likely to report food insufficiency. And in the recent statewide research cited above, many Californians reported experiencing discrimination or bias in applying for assistance, including nearly 30% of those who have participated in CalFresh (the state’s most comprehensive anti-hunger program). Black and Latinx respondents reported more discrimination when applying for benefits than others did. Racial inequity is a root cause of poverty and hunger - we must take action against it.
In addition to addressing the inequities above, we must address the inequitable policies and structures that are disproportionately harming certain Californians.
The rapidly growing population of older Californians. The pandemic has been a time of isolation and reduced resources for many of us, including our state’s oldest residents.
Our fellow Californians affected by climate-related disasters. Such disasters have displaced so many of our neighbors. Even when not displaced, disasters, like wildfires (and the accompanying poor air quality) have created a strain on people’s physical and mental health and make accessing food more complicated.
Pregnant parents and those with young children. Good nutrition is so critical to both babies and parents - yet many programs do not reach families during this important time.
Californians in the process of reentry from jails and prisons. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, people who have been formerly incarcerated are twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Access to food is a key resource that must be in place to support successful transitions.
For each of the inequities and specific communities described above, there are policy actions that should be taken now. While charitable giving is understandably popular and top-of-mind during this holiday season, policy must play a primary role given its sustained reach and impact.
Policy action during the pandemic had a huge impact - including reductions in poverty, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Actions like extended unemployment, Pandemic EBT, and enhanced food benefits all helped to dramatically reduce harm. As the pandemic continues, policy makers in California can launch a new round of actions. No one living in a state with the world’s fifth largest economy should have to worry about running out of food.