A new report says 20% of North Carolinians with children report not having enough food to eat. (Image via Shutterstock) Coronavirus Recession
A new report says 20% of North Carolinians with children report not having enough food to eat. (Image via Shutterstock)

Researchers say millions in NC and across the US are in dire financial straits as federal lawmakers debate another round of coronavirus relief. 

With the US Congress and Senate torn over the terms of another round of coronavirus relief, many North Carolinians and Americans are in desperate financial straits, researchers and policy experts with the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said Tuesday. 

“It’s critical for policy makers to understand millions of people across the country are struggling to just get by,” Shannon Buckingham, a spokesperson for the nonpartisan, DC-based center said during Tuesday’s virtual press briefing.

According to a new CBPP report, which tapped into the Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey between June 25 and July 7, 713,000 adults in NC (9% of the state’s adult population) and 522,000 children (20% of adults living with children) resided in households without enough to eat at some point because they couldn’t afford food. 

And the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, often referred to as “food stamps,” increased by 13% in North Carolina from February to May, up from about 1.22 million to 1.38 million. 

Those numbers hewed closely to the national picture. According to the center, 26 million US adults, 10.8% of the country’s adult population, reported their household didn’t have enough food. That number was twice as high among Black and Latino respondents.

‘The unemployment rate in April jumped to a level not seen since the 1930s.

Additionally, an estimated 13 million adults, one in five renters, are behind on their rent as of July 7. In North Carolina, 422,000, or 20% of renters, reported being behind on their rent. That number also is significantly higher for Black and Latino renters, as well as renters who live with children. 

“These disproportionate impacts expose harsh inequities from systemic racism,” said Sharon Parrott, senior vice president for federal policy and program development at CBPP. “And many of these Americans are more likely to work in low-pay jobs, which have been hit harder.”

The data revealed that 7 million children live in a household behind on rent, and some 8-15 million children live in homes where they do not have enough to eat.

“For children, these are the kinds of hardships that can damage their health and their educational outcomes, forever hanging their life trajectory,” said Parrott.

With initial economic relief from the CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act coming to an abrupt halt at the end of July, and recent spikes in COVID-19 outbreaks forcing many businesses to close or reduce hours, many Americans remain vulnerable to financial hardship.

“The unemployment rate in April jumped to a level not seen since the 1930s, and it stood at 11% in June, higher than any point in the Great Recession,” said Parrott. “And with the unemployment data for June, the numbers predate the recent rise in COVID cases.”

In North Carolina, the unemployment rate for April-June stood at 11.1%, with 721,000 jobless benefits claims as of the week ending June 27.

‘This is going to be a difficult set of negotiations that Congress is going to enter into.’

While some are just now seeing their benefits end, many low-income Americans found themselves left out of economic stimulus programs altogether due to prior unemployment or undocumented status.

“We found that the stimulus package excluded some of our most at-risk families,” said Michelle Rhone-Collins, CEO of LIFT, a human service agency that uses a goal-oriented, holistic approach to partner with members to increase their income and wealth over the long term. 

The organization has provided over $1 million in cash assistance to nearly 800 member families across the nation to reduce economic hardship. For some of those families, it’s the only monetary assistance they received during the pandemic.

As Congress begins debate on a second round of economic stimulus, Parrott said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities hopes to see a more targeted approach to relief that assists the most vulnerable Americans. Based on the data, the center suggests a five-point package that includes: 

-Assistance that addresses hunger and housing, increasing SNAP benefits for all households and an increase in housing vouchers to pay for rent

-More help for immigrants

-Shore up incomes of those who are struggling by expanding unemployment benefits, providing full child tax credits to those receiving partial credits and expansion of the earned income tax credit for all workers

-Fill gaps by providing flexible emergency funding for cash assistance

-Childcare funding for parents who need to return to work but can’t afford childcare

-Robust fiscal relief for states, territories, tribes and local governments 

“A well-designed package that targets aid to those struggling the most can help drive down hardships and improve the economy overall,” said Parrott.

While Parrott said a package that hits all those points is unlikely, she hopes Congress will agree to a stimulus that provides lasting relief for the most at-risk Americans.

“This is going to be a difficult set of negotiations that Congress is going to enter into,” she said. “It’s really important that we keep in mind that this negotiation is about whether or not people who are struggling to afford these basics like putting food on the table and a roof over their head will get the help they need, or will this package shortchange that. When we don’t invest in our people, we all lose.”