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Coronavirus and Nutrition: Feeding Children During the Pandemic

See policy recommendations for strengthening nutrition programs to reach more children

During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of families have lost jobs or seen their incomes decline. Food insecurity, or not having access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle, has risen sharply. 

As a result, federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, have become even more essential to the health and well-being of children and families. The federal government has provided billions of dollars in additional funding, through the Family First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to prevent hunger and help ensure that children and families have access to healthy, affordable food. 

Healthy Eating Research recently hosted a media briefing to explore how best to feed children during the pandemic. The briefing featured leading experts, including: Steven Abrams, MD, neonatologist and professor of Pediatrics at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and chair of the Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics; Sara Bleich, PhD, professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health; Elisabet Eppes, MPH, program innovation director at the National WIC Association; and Blythe Thomas, chief strategy officer at 1,000 Days. They addressed:

  • How upcoming federal legislation should support nutrition assistance programs to help ensure families have enough to eat;
  • If current funding levels for SNAP and school meals programs are enough to meet growing demand;
  • What caregivers can do if they are unable to purchase essential items such as infant formula
  • How families with young children should shop for and store healthy items

Listen to a Recording of the Media Call

In addition, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Healthy Eating Research published two new research briefs that offer recommendations for prioritizing specific changes to SNAP in response to the pandemic. Together, they show why it is imperative for Congress to raise SNAP benefit levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the duration of the longer-term economic recovery.

SNAP Supports Health and Boosts the Economy

SNAP reduces poverty, improves the economy, improves food security, boosts children’s health and academic performance, and encourages healthier eating. In this brief, RWJF calls on Congress to raise the maximum benefit level by 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn and increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30. It also urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw pending rule changes that would decrease SNAP benefits and take SNAP benefits away from four million people.

Download Full Brief
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Increase SNAP Benefits to Stabilize the Economy

The brief from Healthy Eating Research demonstrates that increasing SNAP benefits during the pandemic could help stabilize the economy, and reduce poverty and food insecurity. The study authors conclude that “future federal recovery policy approaches should consider SNAP’s proven ability to lift people out of poverty, purchase healthy food, and create and preserve jobs, as well as the evidence supporting an increase in the monthly benefit allotment.”

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Explore Nutrition Policies

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, helping feed approximately 40 million Americans each month, 44% of whom are children.

Read more about the policy

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

WIC is one of the nation’s largest federal nutrition programs, serving approximately 6.3 million people, including about half of all infants born in the United States.

Read more about the policy

National School Lunch Program

Many children consume up to half their daily calories at school. Nationwide more than 29 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participate in the School Breakfast Program.

Read more about the policies