The Federal Health Emergency Ends, but Marylanders’ Food Insecurity is Rising

As the formal end of the declared federal health emergency arrives, low-income Marylanders struggle with issues like food insecurity and the cost of everyday household items. 

May 11 marks the end of the federal health emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the statewide hunger-relief non-profit, Maryland Food Bank, expressed concern about the staggering food insufficiencies that have risen drastically among low-income and struggling families. Between March and April, the share of families with incomes between $35,000 to $50,000 who reported struggling with food insecurity increased from 33% to 56%. That, and the added inflation factor, has created a gap in these families’ ability to stay afloat.

“Between inflation and the end of government pandemic emergency aid, the need for food assistance in Maryland remains high as the rates of food affordability, financial hardship, and food insufficiency continue to trend upward across all income groups,” according to a press release from the Maryland Food Bank shared on the Maryland Matters website.

According to the Maryland Food Bank, 36% of Maryland families surveyed reported that their children were sometimes not eating enough due to the cost of food, which is 12% higher than the previous month. This data comes from an analysis of the Household Pulse Survey data from the U.S. Census as of April 19

The analysis has also revealed that the share of families earning between $50,000 to $70,000 experiencing food insecurity increased from 6% in March to 26% in April. Additionally, the percentage of Marylanders reporting financial hardship, meaning the ability to pay for usual household expenses, has increased from 36% in March to 38% in April.

“For so much of the last three years, Marylanders were able to rely on emergency aid from the government to get through the pandemic, but now that those programs have expired and costs for everything continue to rise, we’re seeing the true prevalence of hunger in our state,” Carmen Del Guercio, president, and CEO of Maryland Food Bank said in an interview on WBAL News Radio.

According to Maryland Matters, the press release pointed to the end of a temporary boost for people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP benefits) as a factor for continuing food insecurity and unaffordability. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service had also previously reported that people using SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, received additional support throughout the COVID pandemic. However, those emergency allotments ended in February 2023, even as inflation remains a concern for the country.

On April 18, Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced that the Maryland Department of Agriculture is teaming up with the Maryland Food Bank and Capital Area Food Bank through a federal grant to provide $6.1 million in fresh food from local Maryland farmers to give to those in need. The Maryland Food Bank will receive $2.3 million to purchase produce and $1 million to buy meat, eggs, and milk from Maryland farmers. Meanwhile, the Capital Area Food Bank also received a check for $1 million to purchase produce, $1 million to buy other agriculture products, and $500,000 carved out to purchase blue catfish, an invasive species found in the Chesapeake Bay. Read more on this grant.