Racial equity critical to COVID-19 and hunger


By Marlysa D. Gamblin

Many folks who have heard me speak about racism in the United States are likely familiar with my analogy of our country being a big family with an unresolved issue. The longer an issue remains unresolved, the more intentional the efforts to resolve it must be. Such problems are likely to worsen in times of crisis.

The Great Depression in the 1930s was marked by deep racial divides in hunger and food insecurity. Structural racism had not been resolved in any way. African American households were at least twice as likely to be hungry as white households. Hunger affected African Americans even more disproportionately after passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, because 65 percent of African Americans were excluded from the legislation’s social protections.

In 2007, just before the Great Recession hit, African Americans were three times as likely as white households to face food insecurity. During the Great Recession, African Americans had the highest hunger rates of any racial or ethnic community.

With structural racism still not addressed in a meaningful way, it is not surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic is another crisis that affects African Americans disproportionately. Black people are more likely to contract the virus and more likely to die if they get sick, and the racial wealth, income, and hunger divides are likely widening now as well.

Bread for the World Institute is pleased to announce a new resource, the executive summary of our upcoming report, Racially Equitable Responses to Hunger During COVID-19 and Beyond.

The executive summary focuses on racial equity in immediate responses to the pandemic in the areas of food security, housing security, and income security. The top recommendation is to apply a racial equity lens to all COVID-19-related responses going forward. Racial equity tools such as Bread for the World Institute’s Racial Equity Policy Scorecard can help assess how well an initiative or program is working to dismantle racism.

Following are a selection of other recommendations in the executive summary:

  • Recommendation for Food Security: Change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits formula to provide additional support to Black, Indigenous, and Other Households of Color (BIPOC) communities in proportion to how COVID-19 has impacted their households. Currently, SNAP is based only on income. Changing SNAP to account for the impact of racism on households of color will produce equal outcomes in food security.
  • Recommendation for Housing: Work with states to extend eviction moratoriums for BIPOC households, especially female-headed households, in areas with the highest levels of COVID-19 deaths, economic losses, and food insecurity. Structural racism means that it is harder for families of color to secure housing. Being evicted makes it impossible for a family to shelter in place and therefore increases their likelihood of developing COVID-19 and of dying from it.
  • Recommendation for Income: Increase stimulus payments to Black, Indigenous, and Other Families of Color with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, deaths, economic losses, and food insecurity in proportion to these racial inequities. Initial stimulus payments did not account for the disparate impacts that unresolved racism has had on households of color during the pandemic. Doing so now would reduce food insecurity and narrow current racial divides.

The executive summary offers more statistics, analysis, and recommendations for action now.

The full report, coming soon, also examines how to break the cycle of hunger, even during the pandemic, using racial equity approaches. Longer-term recommendations relate to the racial wealth gap, areas of racialized concentrated poverty, and racial bias in the healthcare system.

Marlysa D. Gamblin is senior policy advisor, racial and gender divides, with Bread for the World Institute.

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