JACKSON, Mississippi - Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in March, food insecurity and child care have been major issues during this pandemic. A new state survey of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients finds that Mississippi families need help with food, housing and utilities, especially since government assistance for many families expired earlier this year.
The survey was released by the Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP). It found that 66 percent of those surveyed were having trouble buying enough food at some point during the pandemic. Child care issues were cited by 32 percent and the loss of jobs were also cited by 29 percent.
“Food security was a challenge for many Mississippians well before the pandemic, whether it was people struggling to make ends meet in low wage work or who lacked access to fresh food where they lived,” said Sara Miller, policy analyst at the Hope Policy Institute. “As the pandemic brings these issues to a crisis point, families and communities need both near-term recovery efforts and improvements to food systems in our state overall.”
Government assistance has made a real difference, with 51 percent of respondents saying programs or assistance helped. But most of that aid has expired. Organizations like the SPLC Action Fund, Hope Policy Institute, Children’s Defense Fund, Hope Delta and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Justice and the Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative are calling for the state and federal government to take these concerns into account and move immediately to provide more assistance.
“What this survey shows is that people need help,” said Brandon Jones, Mississippi policy director for the SPLC Action Fund. “We need the government, both at the state and federal level, to do more to help the people who are suffering because of the pandemic.”
Of the 12 Southern states surveyed, Mississippi was the only state to have SNAP and P-EBT application issues as the greatest challenges. All other Southern states had problems with unemployment insurance or stimulus checks as the top challenge. The share of Mississippi respondents who had problems applying for or receiving SNAP was 10 percentage points higher than the share for all Southern respondents (23% vs. 13%).
“The pandemic has exacerbated poverty in Mississippi and the need for holistic systems of support is urgent,” said Carol Burnett of the Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative. “Mississippians need access to food, child care, housing and employment assistance to rebuild their economic security. Mississippians who received pandemic unemployment benefits were priced out of SNAP and consequently lost food assistance, a glaring example of our fractured safety net.”
The data came from 297 anonymized surveys in Mississippi in August and September. Respondents were invited to answer a mixture of multiple choice and open-ended questions about challenges and changes in the wake of the pandemic, experiences using and applying for government benefits, and recommendations and requests for policymakers.
The survey can be read here.