The Census Bureau and Agriculture Department recently released data showing gains were made throughout 2019 in alleviating poverty and hunger in the United States. However, these gains have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With both Houses of Congress about to leave for elections, Congress should urgently pass another COVID-19 relief package before hunger and poverty worsen throughout the country.
"It is always encouraging to see gains made in reducing hunger and poverty. That shows federal programs are working. But the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped away so much of what we have achieved," said Diane Randall, FCNL general secretary. "We should not ignore the dire situation millions currently face, but that is exactly what Congress is doing. As Quakers, we believe that no one should go hungry and suffer from want. Our leaders have a moral responsibility to address this without further delay."
The government data showed poverty and hunger rates reached new lows, despite 34 million (10.5%) still living below the poverty line. Roughly 11.1% of households are food insecure, struggling to put food on the table. Glaringly, the data does not reflect the ongoing recession, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions currently unable to work due to restrictions and recession, hardship has skyrocketed in 2020.
More than 29 million adults now live with food insecurity. The rate is twice as high for Black and Latino households.
"For millions of American families, the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped away the gains we have made. It has exposed how fragile the economy truly is while the pandemic shows no signs of retreating," said Amelia Kegan, FCNL legislative director for domestic policy. "The data demonstrates the vital role federal anti-poverty programs play in ensuring low-income Americans can meet their basic needs."
Two graphics – Top Ten Poorest and Top Ten Hungriest States – illustrate FCNL’s data analysis. These states have hunger and poverty rates well above the national average. Eight states continue to rank in the top ten as both the hungriest and poorest nationwide. New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia remained on the lists, where all (except Oklahoma) have been since 2017.
Kegan concluded that Congress has failed to provide the assistance families desperately need, including increased nutrition funding, housing assistance, and an extension of unemployment assistance.
As a Quaker organization, FCNL believes each person has the right to food, housing, and health care in a safe and sustainable environment. FCNL seeks to eliminate poverty at home and abroad through economic policies that expand opportunities for all.
To learn more, please visit www.fcnl.org.
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Timothy J. McHugh
Friends Committee on National Legislation