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Pandemic EBT in CA: Lessons & Opportunities to End Childhood Hunger

March 31, 2021

New report by Rocio Perez, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow, Congressional Hunger Center

One of the most dire consequences of the pandemic was that it exacerbated an already high rate of food insecurity. Prior to the pandemic, 15.2% of households with children in California were experiencing food insecurity, with one in five children in California living in poverty. And, during the early months of the pandemic, food insecurity doubled, with 30% of households with children in California experiencing food insecurity.

Through a combination of a survey (available in English, Spanish, and Chinese) that received more than 1,400 responses, and interviews with Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) recipients and key stakeholders, I examined the critical role that P-EBT played for California families. The report includes findings about how P-EBT helped to keep children nourished amidst the COVID-19 health, economic, and hunger crisis of 2020, and lessons learned to guide policy recommendations for future iterations of P-EBT and other anti-hunger programs.  

“I could focus on paying other bills without having to worry about also having to pay for food. CA P-EBT was that helping hand we needed to help us stretch out our food budget.”

– P-EBT recipient

Key findings included:

  1. P-EBT didn’t just help to keep children nourished – it eased other financial burdens for families. More than half of respondents said that P-EBT “reduced our worries in paying other household expenses like rent, electricity, or the phone bill.”
  2. Public Charge concerns were pervasive among P-EBT recipients who are part of immigrant or mixed-status households, to the extent that they second guessed applying for and/or using their P-EBT benefits.
  3. Schools play an important and trusted role as key messengers of P-EBT information for families. Many families who received P-EBT also expressed how critical school meals were for their children in addition to P-EBT.
  4. P-EBT demonstrated the necessity of having an additional food resource during periods when school campuses are closed, like the summer months and school breaks when childhood hunger increases.
  5. About half of survey respondents said that they were not already on CalFresh at the time that they received P-EBT, demonstrating the need for many families to be connected with CalFresh that could help their whole family throughout the year.

My research documents the tremendous impact of P-EBT through the eyes of P-EBT recipients and their families. It is important to note however that P-EBT was a temporary bandage for the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic; these inequities will continue to exist if we do not move forward. Let’s take the lessons learned from the design of P-EBT and the pandemic to update existing food programs and policies that meet families where they are.

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