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Reliance on food assistance programs on the rise in Washington State

Food Insecurity and Food Assistance During COVID-19: Follow-up Survey of Wa State

Food insecurity remains high and disparities persist among Washington State households, while reliance on food assistance programs across the state have risen over the past six months, according to new data published by the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition.

The latest report from the WAFOOD research team compares data from two surveys, WAFOOD 1 which was conducted in the summer of 2020, and WAFOOD 2, conducted between December 2020 and January 2021. 

“Programs like SNAP, school meals, food banks, and food pantries in the state saw the largest increase in usage by survey respondents in the past six months,” says James Buszkiewicz, a researcher on the WAFOOD project team. 

Household food insecurity, reported as 30% in the first WAFOOD survey, remains largely unchanged with a slight reduction to 27% in WAFOOD 2. More disparities by income, education, race/ethnicity, and in households with children also continue to persist.

The biggest change in the past six months has been in the use of any food assistance which rose from 29% prior to COVID-19 to 33% in the first WAFOOD survey, but has now risen to 42% based on the newest data from WAFOOD 2.

“I think this points to the vital role these food assistance programs play in meeting the growing demand for food in Washington State,” says Buszkiewicz.

Researchers are now planning a third survey to be conducted in summer 2021 to continue to understand the prolonged and ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the economic and food security of Washington State. 

“Earlier recessions have shown us that higher rates of food insecurity often persist long after other measures, such as economic and public health, have begun to return to pre-disruption levels. We need to continue to monitor the situation this summer and for some time beyond,” says Jennifer Otten, co-lead on the survey.

The WAFOOD surveys and research work is a joint effort between the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition in the UW School of Public Health and Washington State University (WSU), with collaboration from Tacoma Community College (TCC).  

More Information

More about the WAFOOD project and read the latest report.

Team members include Adam Drewnowski, Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition and Professor, Epidemiology at UWSPH; Jennifer J. Otten, Food Systems Director and Associate Professor, Nutritional Sciences and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) at UWSPH; Laura R. Lewis, Director, Food Systems Program and an Associate Professor, Community and Economic Development at WSU; Sarah M. Collier, Assistant Professor, Nutritional Sciences and DEOHS at UWSPH; Brinda Sivaramakrishnan, Professor, Community Health at TCC; Chelsea M. Rose, Research Coordinator, Epidemiology at UWSPH; Alan Ismach, Research Coordinator, Health Services at UWSPH; Esther Nguyen, Research Assistant at UWSPH; and James Buszkiewicz, Research Scientist, Epidemiology at UWSPH.

May 11, 2021