Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

NYHealth brief examines food insufficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York State.
In 2022, nearly 1 in 10 New Yorkers reported food insufficiency, an increase from 2021, when 1 in 12 New Yorkers experienced food insufficiency.
An NYHealth data brief shows that food insufficiency increased twice as much in households with children compared to households without children from 2021 to 2022.


Rising hunger has been one of the many devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the onset, many New Yorkers lost employment, which limited their ability to afford food. School closures and social distancing measures also disrupted food access in schools, houses of worship, and other community settings. As a result, food insufficiency spiked in 2020.[1] Emergency government programs such as stimulus payments, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Emergency Allotments, universal free school meals, and the Child Tax Credit helped alleviate the problem in 2020 and 2021, but many of those programs have since ended.

This data brief examines household trends in food insufficiency in New York State from 2020 through 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insufficiency as a household sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the previous seven days.[2] During the pandemic, the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey was conducted on a near-real-time, biweekly basis to track food insufficiency.[3] Food insufficiency is both more severe and shorter-term than the commonly used measure of food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as a household being unable to acquire adequate food because they had insufficient money and other resources for food, typically over a 12-month or 30-day period.[4] This brief explores trends in food insufficiency among New York State households and highlights differences between households with and without children, as well as differences by age, income, race, and ethnicity.

[1] New York Health Foundation. “Food Scarcity in New York State During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”, accessed March 2023.
[2] USDA. “Food Insecurity in the US.”,than%20to%20overall%20food%20insecurity, accessed March 2023.
[3] U.S. Census Bureau. “Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus Pandemic.”, accessed March 2023.
[4] USDA. “Food Insecurity in the US.”,than%20to%20overall%20food%20insecurity, accessed March 2023.

Key Findings

  • In 2022, nearly 1 in 10 New Yorkers (9.7%) reported food insufficiency, an increase from 2021, when 1 in 12 New Yorkers (8.6%) experienced food insufficiency.
  • Food insufficiency increased twice as much in households with children compared to households without children (18.7% increase vs. 9.6% increase) from 2021 to 2022. One in eight (12.7%) New York households with children experienced food insufficiency in 2022.
  • Food insufficiency increased by more than 30% for New York adults ages 65 and older between 2021 and 2022.
  • Food insufficiency increased only for households in middle-income groups (those with annual incomes between $25,000 and $99,999) between 2021 and 2022. Many households in these income brackets are ineligible for emergency government programs such as free or reduced-price school meals.
  • In 2022, nearly one in five Black (17.5%) and Hispanic New Yorkers (17.0%) experienced food insufficiency. Rates of food insufficiency for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers were twice as high as rates for white New Yorkers (7.1%). Across all races and ethnicities, food insufficiency rates between 2021 and 2022 increased most sharply for Asian (41.3%) and Black (16.7%) New Yorkers.

Policy Implications

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, significant government investments in 2020 and 2021 helped alleviate household income losses and food insecurity; measures included stimulus payments, SNAP Emergency Allotments, universal school meals, and the Child Tax Credit. These programs were successful in reducing food insufficiency in 2021, but many of them have since ended. Additional economic hardships, including inflation and increasing food prices, have created new challenges for New York households.[5] ,[6] Food insufficiency has again increased for New Yorkers in 2022. Measures such as free healthy school meals for all, expanded SNAP Emergency Allotments, the Groceries to Go program, and Food Is Medicine programs should be implemented to ensure New Yorkers do not go hungry.

[5] Bovell-Ammon A, McCann NC, Mulugeta M, et al. “Association of the Expiration of Child Tax Credit Advance Payments With Food Insufficiency in US Households.” JAMA Open (October 2022).  doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.34438
[6] Waxman E, Salas J, Gupta P, Karpman M. Food Insecurity Trended Upward in Midst of High Inflation and Fewer Supports. Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. September 2022.

Data and Findings

Overall Trends in Food Insufficiency

A higher percentage of New Yorkers reported food insufficiency in 2022 (9.7%) than in 2021 (8.6%). The percentage of New Yorkers reporting food insufficiency decreased in 2021, following an initial spike after the onset of the pandemic. Food insufficiency again increased in 2022, as programs to address food insufficiency ended.

Food Insufficiency by Year

Food Insufficiency in Households with Children

Across all years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a higher percentage of households with children reported food insufficiency compared to those without children, but the rate was the highest in 2022. In 2022, there was an increase of 18.7% in food insufficiency for households with children, compared to a 9.6% increase for households without children. Between 2020 and 2021, households with children reported a greater reduction in food insufficiency (21.9% reduction) than households without children (10.4% reduction).

Monthly survey data show clearly the impact that a range of public policies had on food insufficiency for New York households with children. Food insufficiency decreased in households with children in the months after SNAP allotments increased and dropped even more precipitously following the introduction of the Child Tax Credit and universal free school meals in July 2021. Food insufficiency then spiked among households with children after the elimination of the Child Tax Credit and again after universal school meals programs ended.

Food Insufficiency by Age Group

Respondents in all age groups reported higher food insufficiency in 2022 compared with 2021. Although older adults (ages 65 and older) had the lowest rates of food insufficiency of any age group, they were the only age group to experience a steady increase in food insufficiency between 2020 and 2022. This group reported the greatest increases in food insufficiency, with a 32.4% increase in 2022 over the prior year. In comparison, adults ages 18–34 had the highest reported food insufficiency in 2020, but experienced a 29.6% decrease between 2020 and 2021. For this group, the rate of food insufficiency remained considerably lower in 2022 than in 2020.

Food Insufficiency by Income Group

Income is highly associated with food insufficiency. The lowest-income households (those earning less than $25,000 a year) were the most likely to report food insufficiency during the pandemic. The rate of food insufficiency among this group remained high, but relatively stable. In comparison, in 2022, food insufficiency for the two middle-income groups ($25,000–$49,000 and $50,000–$99,000) increased compared with the prior year. Households earning $25,000–$49,000 reported a 17.5% increase.

Food Insufficiency by Race/Ethnicity

There were notable racial and ethnic disparities in food insufficiency in New York State during the pandemic. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers were at least twice as likely to report food insufficiency as white or Asian respondents each year. In 2022, every racial and ethnic group had an increase in food insufficiency. However, Black and Asian New Yorkers had disproportionate increases in food insufficiency (16.7% and 41.3%, respectively).


Food insufficiency increased significantly for New Yorkers in 2022 and disproportionately affected many already marginalized populations. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, considerable federal and State income supports led to more consistent access to food. However, the end of emergency government programs—most notably the end of the expanded Child Tax Credit in December 2021—coupled with rising inflation and food prices in 2022 continued to drive increases in food insufficiency.

While food insufficiency increased for New Yorkers overall, some households fared much worse in 2022. Families with children saw sharp rises in food insufficiency, as did households in middle income brackets. Many of these households are ineligible for free or reduced-price school meals, depending on household size.

The data also show an alarming rise in hunger among older adults (ages 65 and older) in 2022. Older adults are a particularly vulnerable population who have unique challenges getting food because of mobility issues and dietary needs. Rising food costs and inflation are particularly harmful to this population, who often live on a fixed income.

Racial and ethnic disparities in food insufficiency are indicative of persistent and widening racial equity gaps that must be addressed. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers experience food insufficiency at rates twice as high as white and Asian New Yorkers. And both Black and Asian New Yorkers experienced a significant increase in food insufficiency between 2021 and 2022. The end of pandemic-era social programs may disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, who may also struggle with an added burden in accessing culturally appropriate foods.

2023 brings additional challenges to hunger in New York, particularly given the end of enhanced SNAP Emergency Allotment benefits in March. The expiration of this and other programs could result in more New Yorkers experiencing food insufficiency. With the end of the public health emergency, additional pandemic-related supports are ending, leaving New York households vulnerable to longer-term food insecurity and potentially worse physical and mental health outcomes.[7]

[7] New York Health Foundation. “Food Scarcity’s Influence on Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic in New York State.” (January 2022) Accessed March 2023.

Policy Recommendations

New York State and the federal government should pursue the following policy recommendations:

  • Enact free healthy school meals for all students. Current free and reduced-price lunch programs exclude families with incomes that are higher than the program thresholds but lower than a living wage. The NYHealth Survey on Food and Health found that 87% of families who participated in the federal free meal program found it helpful.[8] Several states, including California and Maine, have already implemented free school meals for all students.
  • Continue SNAP Emergency Allotment benefits. The additional benefits implemented at the height of the pandemic ended as of March 2023, a time when New Yorkers are experiencing high costs of living, including inflated food prices. Older adults living on fixed incomes are hit especially hard. The federal government should reinstate SNAP Emergency Allotment benefits to help prevent increased food insecurity.
  • Expand outreach for food and nutrition programs. New York State should optimize participation in programs such as SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 41% of New Yorkers eligible for WIC and 11% of New Yorkers eligible for SNAP do not participate, according to USDA.[9] ,[10] Increased participation can reduce food insecurity without significant added costs to the State.
  • Ensure adequate funding for emergency food programs. Although SNAP remains the most effective tool to combat hunger, New Yorkers also rely on emergency food programs and other meal programs. For example, food banks and their partner food pantries provide free food for families in need. Typically, these entities receive federal funding through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), State programs like the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP), and other State, local, and private funds. The end of pandemic-era policies will result in an increased burden on the emergency food network as more New Yorkers turn to food pantries to put food on the table. New York State and the federal government should shore up and fully fund emergency food programs to meet increased demand.
  • Increase food access through online groceries. Transportation is often a significant factor for people facing food insufficiency and insecurity; the costs of delivery can make groceries unaffordable. State and local governments should partner with federal agencies to compensate the cost of grocery deliveries.
  • Promote Food Is Medicine programs. Food Is Medicine interventions, like medically tailored meals, help fight food insufficiency and insecurity and, ultimately, improve health. Medically tailored meals have been piloted under Medicaid in New York and in many other states. These programs should be made reimbursable under Medicaid permanently.

[8] New York Health Foundation. NYHealth Survey of Food and Health. 2022. Accessed February 2023.
[9] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. SNAP participation rates by state, all eligible people. 2020. Accessed March 2023.
[10] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. WIC 2019 eligibility and coverage rates. April 22, 2022. Accessed March 2023.


The data used for the analysis are from the COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product designed by the U.S. Census Bureau in collaboration with multiple federal agencies. The data are available at:

U.S. Census Bureau. “Household Pulse Survey Public Use File.” Accessed February 2023.

The survey is designed to provide near-real-time data on household experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States to inform federal and state responses. Phase 1 of data collection started on April 23, 2020, and was generally conducted on a weekly basis until July 1, 2020. Phase 2 of data collection began on August 19, 2020, and was generally conducted every two weeks on October 26, 2020. Phase 3 of data collection started on October 28, 2020, and was conducted every two weeks until March 29, 2021. Phase 3.1 collected responses from April 14, 2021 until July 5, 2021. Phase 3.2 collected responses from July 21, 2021 until October 11, 2021. Phase 3.3 collected responses from December 1, 2021 until February 7, 2022. Phase 3.4 collected data from March 2, 2022 until May 9, 2022. Phase 3.5 collected responses from June 1, 2022 until August 8, 2022. Phase 3.6 collected responses from September 14, 2022 until November 14, 2022. Phase 3.7 collected responses from December 9, 2022 until February 13, 2023. Each phase had updated questionnaires, which were administered through e-mail or mobile phone to complete an internet questionnaire.

Only adults were surveyed. The Census Bureau drew the sampling frame from the Census Bureau Master Address File, supplemented by the Census Bureau Contact Frame. The Census Bureau weighted the survey responses to account for nonresponse. This weighting also adjusted the survey responses to be more representative of demographic distributions—including by educational attainment, sex, age, and race and ethnicity—in each state. Weighted data were used in the analysis based on the weights provided by the Census Bureau.