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June 1, 2021, New York, NY –New survey data show that 12% of adult New Yorkers experienced food scarcity in March 2021, down from 14% at the end of 2020. But the overall trend masks persistent racial and ethnic disparities in food security: Hispanic and Black New Yorkers reported food scarcity rates approximately 4 to 6 times higher than those of white New Yorkers.

The findings come from a New York Health Foundation (NYHealth) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data from the beginning of the pandemic through March 2021. It defines food scarcity as sometimes or often not having enough to eat in their household in the last 7 days.

“Food insecurity levels have thankfully eased a bit since the height of the pandemic,” said David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO of NYHealth. “But the stark reality remains that millions of New Yorkers will go to bed hungry tonight or not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Without access to affordable and nutritious food, New Yorkers can’t be healthy and thrive.”

The small decrease in food scarcity between December and March may be linked to recent federal policies that appear to be helping New Yorkers access and afford food, such as stimulus payments, supplements to State unemployment benefits, and an increase in food stamp benefits. Yet more than half of food-scarce households in March 2021 reported they had borrowed money from friends or family to meet their spending needs, suggesting that these programs are not adequate.

Among the report’s findings:

  • 12% of adult New Yorkers reported in March 2021 that there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in their household in the last 7 days, down from 14% in December 2020.
  • More than 1 in 4 Hispanic New Yorkers (29%) and 1 in 5 Black New Yorkers (20%) reported household food scarcity in March 2021. These percentages were approximately 4 to 6 times higher than among white New Yorkers.
  • In March 2021, more than 1 in 5 adults with children in their household reported that the children were often or sometimes not eating enough in the prior week, because the household could not afford enough food. This was the highest rate since data collection on child food scarcity began in June 2020.
  • The rate of food scarcity was more than 2.5 times higher for those who reported lost household employment income during the pandemic, compared with those who did not (in March 2021, 18% compared with 7%). For nearly every month throughout the survey period, more than half of New Yorkers reported that they or someone in their household had lost employment income since the start of the pandemic.
  • Throughout the survey period, nearly 1 in 10 New Yorkers reported that their households were accessing free meals or groceries. In the first three months of 2021, school programs, food pantries, and food from friends, families, and neighbors were the most-used access points.

“Millions of New Yorkers have lost their jobs or are living on a reduced income in the last 14 months, and that’s affecting their ability to afford food,” said Mark Zezza, Ph.D., NYHealth’s director of policy &  research. “Compounding the problem, the pandemic has disrupted usual channels of free food distribution, like meals provided in schools. New York needs to continue to implement creative, sustainable solutions to meet the needs of hungry families.”

The full report, “Continuing Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Food Scarcity in New York,” is available here.

NYHealth staff will be discussing the report’s findings and food security issues more broadly at the New York State Food Summit on Wednesday, June 2nd.


The New York Health Foundation (NYHealth) is a private, statewide foundation dedicated to improving the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. The Foundation is committed to making grants, informing health policy and practice, spreading effective programs to improve the health care system and the health of New Yorkers, serving as a convener of health leaders across the State, and providing technical assistance to its grantees and partners.


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