Feeding Texas, the statewide network of food banks, announced plans this week to address the potential for increased hunger resulting from the COVID-19 coronavirus.
As the economic impacts of the virus begin to mount, we expect to see a rise in demand at food banks. Low-wage workers, who often live without health coverage and/or paid sick leave, may see their hours cut as a result of social distancing practices, such as canceling community events (SXSW) and less people going out to eat or traveling.
To mitigate these impacts, the network of 21 food banks, which collectively serve all 254 counties in Texas, are stockpiling emergency food boxes and sanitation supply kits to distribute to impacted communities. As in any disaster response, the food banks will target their resources to the most vulnerable – seniors, children, and those with long-term illnesses.
With safety in mind, the food banks have also strengthened their cleanliness and sanitation standards, disseminated educational materials and hand sanitizer for public use, and are testing and implementing protocols to ensure a continuity of service should their staff or volunteers be impacted.
In the event COVID-19 leads to school closures in Texas or quarantine situations in low-income communities, USDA has flexibility within the public nutrition programs – including SNAP, the School Lunch Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) – to respond aggressively to any loss of meals.
USDA has already approved waivers in Washington state and California that would allow schools to provide “grab-and-go” bagged lunches and/or meal delivery to students during school closures. The purpose of these waivers is to help schools avoid situations where people gather in a group. In Texas, two-thirds of children living in low-income households in Texas rely on meals provided at school.
In addition, Congress is considering the reauthorization of “P-SNAP” (Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) as part of a Coronavirus stimulus package. Similar to D-SNAP (Disaster SNAP), which can be activated during times of natural disaster, P-SNAP is designed to ensure low-income Americans have access to food in the event that loss of income, school closures, and other social distancing measures taken by states and businesses to contain the spread of an outbreak increase the need for SNAP.
In the event that COVID-19 becomes widespread in Texas, Feeding Texas will be working with state and federal policymakers to maximize the use of the public nutrition programs to prevent increased hunger among these vulnerable populations.