Federal Aid Helped Everyone Put Food on the Table

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That’s how much the rate of food insufficiency among middle-income households has dropped this year—a sign of the broad impact of the government’s latest federal pandemic relief packages, according to a new analysis.

A University of Michigan analysis of Census Bureau data shows the share of people reporting they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food in the previous week has dropped in tandem with the federal government’s response to the pandemic, falling between December and April for every income level examined, and in most cases sharply right after the disbursement of funds.

And while the largest percentage-point decline in these food insufficiency rates was among the lowest-income households—by far the hardest hit by the pandemic—even the rates for people with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 were roughly cut in half during that period, with the share in the $50,000-$75,000 bracket dropping from 11.1% to 5.5%, for example. (The share for several income brackets ticked back up slightly in May.)

The federal government’s so-called stimulus checks—up to $600 per person in December and $1,400 per person in March—went to the vast majority of U.S. households. Every recipient of unemployment insurance, likewise, received the same federal supplement of $300 a week, regardless of income.

The data, examined by a university-wide poverty research initiative called Poverty Solutions, is evidence that broad-based government support programs work, researchers wrote in a recent report. Suggesting that typical safety-net programs that target lower-income Americans come with stigmas and breed resentment, the group echoed many of the arguments for universal basic income.

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  1. University of Michigan. “Material Hardship and Mental Health Following the COVID-19 Relief Bill and American Rescue Plan Act.”

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