Food Insecurity Worsens as Pandemic Aid Disappears

By Dennis Archambault

As the news media warns about the impending end of pandemic assistance, much attention has been paid to expanded Medicaid eligibility – rightfully so. Thousands of people are at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage. However, there are other social determinants of health affected by the end of this policy – notably food assistance. An estimated 1.3 million residents in Michigan will experience a drop in food assistance.

In light of inflationary pressures, this is a significant added cost of living, complicating efforts to encourage people to make healthier choices in their meal preparation. People will increasingly be forced to select lower cost options for food, and when the money runs out they’ll look for food pantries. “When a household falls on tough times, food is often the first thing that gets cut from the budget because it’s one of the quickest ways that a family can respond to hardship,” according to Julie Cassidy, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy. She told the Detroit Free Pressthat families are facing a cliff as the extra food aid, rental assistance, and Medicaid coverage are eliminated.

Even with the pandemic assistance, food insecurity affected low-income households during the pandemic, according to a released by the Food Security Council, created by Gov. Whitmer to examine the scope and reasons behind food insecurity in the state. The advisory group submitted its findings and recommendations to the governor last month.

Community food pantries, once an emergency source of food for families experiencing hard times, are becoming more of a normal supplement for what families can afford to buy with their own resources. And often those products are processed, which may compromise the health of those sensitive to sodium and sugar.

As the state’s Task Force on Racial Disparities evolves into its next phase, ongoing social determinants like the ability to afford sufficient nutritious food should be a major discussion point. While this certainly affects minorities, food insecurity is a persistent aspect of poverty that affects all low-income households, and indirectly community health.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.