A roundup of food policy topics
What’s Hot: NYC School Families to Receive $420 Per Child in Relief Package
As part of the Coronavirus Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, drawn from a federal $3 trillion stimulus package, families of all New York City school students who normally receive free lunch will be provided $420 per child to help cover food costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since New York City schools offer universal free lunch, providing no-cost meals to all students regardless of need, every New York City student in a public, charter, city parochial or private school qualifies for this benefit.
Families will not need to apply for the program, and the families already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), receiving Temporary Assistance benefits or Medicaid will automatically receive the assistance through their existing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. For families of children who receive free or reduced-price lunch but don’t receive SNAP or Temporary Assistance benefits, more information will be mailed in mid-June in regards to this benefit.
Like SNAP benefits, these Pandemic EBT benefits can be used for food purchases at authorized retail food stores and for ordering groceries online.
The cards will provide about $5.70 for each day that students were eligible to receive a meal since the closure of the city school system on March 16 through the end of the school year. This includes public schools as well as charter, city parochial, and private schools that are enrolled in federal school lunch programs. According to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, about 2.1 million children throughout the state were receiving free and reduced-price meals.
Food Policy Watchdog: Meat Industry Remains a Hot Spot for Infection
Despite 5,000 plant workers across 19 states who tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 27 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an executive order encouraged meat processing facilities to reopen at the end of April. The Trump administration said the food supply was to be weighted equally with safety. According to the Washington Post, in the month since the executive order, more than half of the 30 meat processing plants that had been closed due to COVID-19 have reopened. Also within the past month, the number of infections within three of the country’s largest meat processors – Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS – has gone from around 3,000 to more than 11,000.
The working conditions in meat processing facilities make it difficult to follow social distancing and COVID-19 recommendations. The CDC reported that the crowded conditions of workers in meat and poultry processing facilities as well as the difficulty of adhering to face-covering recommendations because of the “pace and physical demands” of the work put workers at higher risk of infection.
Additionally, many employees feel inclined to continue working while ill because of medical leave policies and attendance bonuses that encourage them to do so even while experiencing symptoms. Workers who live in crowded, multigenerational settings, who often use public transportation to get to and from work, add additional layers of risk for transmission.
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is tracking outbreaks through local news and reports that worker deaths have increased throughout the industry. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, reports that in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, COVID-19 cases among meat workers represent 18, 20, and 29 percent of the states’ total cases respectively.
Meanwhile, in his remarks last week about the food supply and meatpacking, President Trump mentioned that the disproportionately high number of cases in meatpacking workers is a problem “that’s going away” and that the meat processing facilities are “very, very clean now.”
USA Today highlights individual workers’ concerns and struggles with the current situation. Even with the additional precautions being taken by the plants, the threat of COVID-19 is still prevalent, so the industry workers remain vulnerable and are left with tough personal choices about whether to remain on the processing lines and receive paychecks or lose their jobs to feel safe for themselves and their families.
Quote of the Month:
“It’s really a stark illustration of how close so many people in this country are to needing help,” Kate Leone, Feeding America’s chief government relations officer to Marketplace on food insecurity during the pandemic
A Marketplace-Edison Research poll found that two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, 44 percent of Americans are afraid they won’t be able to afford food.
According to the USDA, in 2018, 11 percent of American households were food insecure, meaning that at times of the year, the households were uncertain if they would be able to have enough food to meet the needs of everyone in the household due to insufficient funds and resources.
Now, with the unemployment rate of 14.7 percent since mid-March, many of those struggling to afford food for their households rely on food banks and food pantries. Feeding America, a national network of food banks, has seen a 70 percent increase in demand since the pandemic began.
According to a survey by the Brookings Institution, nearly one in five children 12 and younger do not have enough food to eat, which is three times the rate that was reported during the recession in 2008.
Lines in front of food pantries are growing longer, and not just because community members have to stand six feet apart.
Fact Check: How have prices and purchasing of food been affected by COVID-19?
A report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics published this month shows that this April had the largest monthly increase in food-at-home purchasing since 1974. Overall, consumers paid 2.6 percent more for groceries last month, driven by price increases for many grocery and food items. The index for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs rose the most with a 4.3 percent increase. Eggs alone had an increase of 16.1 percent.
The report indicates that the food-at-home prices in April had a higher monthly inflation rate than any month since 1990. The USDA’s Food Price Outlook Summary Findings notes that for several years, inflation for food-at-home has been slower than that for food-away-from-home (restaurant). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend has been interrupted.
Given the large increase in food-at-home prices in April, the USDA expects the annual increase in food-at-home prices to rise significantly. Americans are spending more money on groceries due to COVID-19. Notably, these increases come in tandem with the rise in food insecurity as well as unemployment since mid-March, a level not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.