This holiday season, Americans are struggling to put food on the table at historic rates.

A student tucks a packet of gravy mix into a Thanksgiving food basket at Gardiner Area High School. The Good Shepherd Food Bank, which distributes food to food pantries around Maine, expects food insecurity to rise by as much as 40 percent this year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Overall, 1 in 8 American households say they sometimes or often don’t have enough to eat, according to a recent analysis of federal data by The Washington Post. That number rises to 1 in 6 in households with children.

More Americans are hungry now than at any point during the pandemic. There is more hunger now than at any point since at least 1998, when comparable data was first collected.

Sadly, this level of hunger was entirely predictable, and though it is clear what needs to be done, the federal government simply isn’t doing it.

The pandemic caused record unemployment, but a lot of the hurt was alleviated by the federal relief programs passed by Congress in March.

However, many of those programs, including enhanced unemployment, have run out or will by the end of the year. The Americans whose finances have been affected the most during the pandemic, many of whom were struggling before COVID hit, are at the end of their rope, if they haven’t run out already.

Left unaddressed, the hunger, along with its short- and long-term effects on people’s health, well-being and employment prospects, will get worse. Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger relief organization, projects that ultimately 1 in 6 people and 1 in 4 children will not have enough food this year.

That will come as no surprise to the people who run food assistance organizations in Maine, which historically has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England.

In August, thousands of Mainers showed up when boxes of food were handed out in Augusta, a scene that has been repeated elsewhere in the state many times since then. Food pantries up and down the state are preparing for a rough winter, as they see more and more new faces coming for help.

Good Shepherd Food Bank, the largest food bank in Maine, expects food insecurity to rise by as much as 40 percent this year.

There’s no doubt what needs to be done to help. Besides injecting billions of dollars into the economy at a time when it is vulnerable, reinstituting some level of enhanced unemployment benefits, such as those given out in the first few months of the pandemic, would give struggling Americans some breathing room, as would extending the length of time people can receive those benefits.

Also, benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, should be increased and extended through the duration of the crisis.

Those items could be included in a relief package, but Congress has been unable to agree on one, as Republicans have pushed an inadequate package – and some in the party don’t want any agreement at all.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are looking ahead to a bleak winter.


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