The pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color and vulnerable groups facing financial and health challenges, and food security is certainly no exception. Between April and December 2020, one in three households in Los Angeles County experienced food insecurity. While hunger in our city remains an intractable problem, a new study led by the Public Exchange at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences suggests that the situation has improved. Christine Tran, general manager of the Los Angeles Food Policy advice, joins Evan Kleiman to help break down the report and explain who continues to be affected.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KCRW: Tell us about the study and who conducted it.
Christine Tran: “The study is called ‘The impact of COVID-19 on food security in Los Angeles County. ‘ And the principal investigator is Dr Kayla de la Haye. She is an Assistant Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences at USC Keck School of Medicine. And she was part of a larger team that partnered with private sectors, including Yelp and a website. Findhelp.org. And together they worked alongside LA County Emergency Food Safety Branch to better understand the numbers that people are going through in real time. I think one of the most important things about this report is that, as we try to be responsive, information, such as real data, is important to us to improve our practices and also to improve the services to which communities have access.
What were the initial questions they envisioned and wanted to answer?
“The three main questions that really motivated their research were, ‘How has access to food and food insecurity changed? Second, “How have food aid programs in LA County changed?” »And this includes WIC and CalFresh. And the third question they were asking was, “How do the answers to these questions vary depending on the demographics and location of the neighborhood?” “
Who were the adults who remained food insecure in the first half of 2021?
“The population that remained food insecure consisted mainly of low-income women, Latinos and people between the ages of 18 and 40. use. We have a lot of data on unemployment rates, but there are also populations that are not fully understood in this. And so a lot of low income [people], especially women, especially domestic workers, this is one of the reasons why this population has remained food insecure.
Many young people also remain food insecure.
“There are a lot of challenges when we think of kids who graduated from high school and went to college. This first year for a lot of people during this pandemic has been really tough. Also, when thinking about the workforce, people who may be in their first job for the first time [were] displaced out of the economy. So the people who were in that 18 to 40 age bracket reflect not only the state of our economies, but also the stages in life that people might go through. “
Has there been an increase in the number of people who have used CalFresh – what we used to call food stamps – and has that helped?
“Before the pandemic, some numbers reflected certain challenges in accessing CalFresh. CalFresh is not the easiest program to apply and navigate. In fact, I grew up in a CalFresh household, and requesting CalFresh benefits requires a lot of app browsing and knowing when to recertify your request. And so a lot of people weren’t applying to CalFresh because of these challenges.
One of the things that happened during this time was the waivers implemented by the federal government [that] made it possible to streamline administrative formalities. Telephone signatures were therefore authorized. This meant that we can verify the identity of people [over] the phone, alongside the paperwork and documentation, of course, but before the pandemic a lot of face-to-face time was needed. So there were a number of food support programs like CalFresh and WIC that received waivers that allowed program participants to enroll at a much higher rate. And more specifically, by removing those barriers, more people were able to apply because it was easier. “
Is basic access to healthy food still a problem in many neighborhoods?
“Unfortunately, it is. And I would also say that besides not having enough places to buy food, what a lot of people call “food deserts,”… the infrastructure for those places is not there either. One great thing during the pandemic was [that] getting on a bus or train was difficult because the lines changed the rules, [and had] reduction in benefits. Many of those phone trips had to change services, so older people struggled to access the normal services they would have if it was before the pandemic. So often when we think of food deserts in our community, there is not only the lack of places to buy food, but also the infrastructure to get people from point A to point B. .
Did the report provide any answers or recommendations for the county?
“Yes, the county’s recommendations included more targeted outreach to enroll more food insecure people in CalFresh. And this is actually a project that the LA Food Policy Council has been working on with partners like the Department of Public Health and Top 5 LA. And this targeted outreach explains how to support populations that are often either underserved or missing data in one way or another.
The second major recommendation is to investigate the perspectives of the community by interviewing people who may be affected by food insecurity. And that ties in very well with this first recommendation. In order to raise awareness, how do you connect the dots between the needs that people may have and the reasons why they might not want to access or do not have access to them? And a third area they recommended was addressing equitable access to food through urban planning. LA is a planned city and county. So how do we actually connect the dots to the infrastructure of our communities? Through elected officials, through government, and by truly determining the infrastructure needs of our communities. Because at any time, as the pandemic has taught us, things can happen, and how to prepare for them?
And then the last thing they recommended for the county is to monitor and invest in a just and resilient food system by building partnerships. This report is therefore an example of the private sector and academia coming together alongside government and truly discovering [that] these points are really important, not only for people affected by food insecurity, but also for the necessary infrastructure to come forward when they need this support. “