Holmes: Hunger has skyrocketed as a result of the coronavirus, but these nutrition programs can feed kids and promote equity

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Childhood hunger was a problem in Maryland long before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and it’s no secret that the ongoing economic crisis has made the situation much more dire for many families. Parents and caregivers have lost jobs and wages and are finding themselves struggling even more to pay bills and put food on the table. 

In August, No Kid Hungry Maryland released a new report based on data from the most recent Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey/Youth Tobacco Survey that showed 1 in every 4 middle and high school students in Maryland lacked consistent access to healthy food. Worse yet, these troubling rates of food insecurity were from before COVID-19. More recent data shows that food insecurity tripled in households with children in the first three months of the pandemic alone. 

The risk of food insecurity is significantly higher for Black and Latino students. This isn’t new, but this pandemic has deepened those disparities.The effects of COVID-19 are hitting communities of color especially hard, due in large part to long standing economic and health inequities. A national report from No Kid Hungry found that almost half of American families are living with hunger during the pandemic, and those numbers are even worse among Black (53%) and Latino families (56%).

Already, this pandemic has erased more than a decade’s worth of progress toward ending childhood hunger, and the economic after effects won’t disappear overnight even once we have a vaccine. The good news is that here in Maryland, we have a number of solutions we know work to promote equity and make sure kids have the nutrition they need to reach their full potential:

  1. Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA) is a state-funded program that supports universal, free breakfast in the classroom. Schools with MMFA provide breakfast after the first school bell, eliminating barriers to participation in school breakfast including stigma, fees, transportation and timing. In the hundreds of MMFA schools, we’ve seen that tardiness and absenteeism rates are lower and student behavior improves. Unfortunately, under the current state funding level, not all eligible schools are able to participate. More than 130,000 additional Maryland students would benefit from a fully-funded MMFA program.
  2. Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a federal school meal funding option that enables schools to provide access to free breakfast and lunch to all students. Given rising poverty due to the pandemic, more schools are now eligible for CEP than ever before. We strongly recommend that eligible schools elect CEP, which is associated with improved test scores, better attendance, and a decrease in disciplinary referrals.
  3. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition benefits on an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card to support families in purchasing healthy food at the grocery store or online for delivery. Unfortunately, only about half of all students in Maryland that are eligible for free school meals are enrolled in SNAP. As a result, more than 160,000 students may be eligible but not yet enrolled. At the federal level, action is needed to make sure SNAP benefits meet the current level of need: Congress must increase SNAP benefits by 15% during this crisis, which works out to approximately $25 more per person a month.
  4. Summer SNAP for Children reduces childhood hunger by providing an additional $30 per child, per summer month in food benefits directly onto EBT cards, and an additional $10 per child during the winter break. Maryland is leading the nation with this new solution, which helps ensure kids have enough to eat while schools are closed during the summer and winter vacations. Currently, the state funding allocated for this program will only support 2,000 low-income children, and the program must be expanded significantly to reach the 250,000 children in the state of Maryland who are eligible and in need.
  5. Pandemic EBT is a short-term benefit that can help Maryland households with children who temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to pandemic-related school closures. Congress recently extended benefits through the FY20-21 school year, which will provide a huge relief for families. 


Director, Maryland No Kid Hungry

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