COVID-19 Caused Employees to Face Child Hunger Issue

COVID-19 Caused Employees to Face Child Hunger Issue

With schools closed and children learning from home, parents who have experienced a loss or reduced income during the pandemic are struggling to feed their families. Employers must acknowledge the needs and problems that many of their hourly workers face, such as the critical problem of child hunger.

More than half of schoolchildren in the U.S. qualify for subsidized meals. In the state of Louisiana alone, 78 percent of schoolchildren need subsidized lunches, while West Virginia holds a staggering 85 percent.[1] School lunches are necessary to families across America.

Over 30 million children qualified for Congress’ Pandemic-EBT program, which aimed to compensate for the loss of school meals by placing the value of these lunches on electronic cards that families would then use in grocery stores.

However, the Pandemic-EBT program has a problem with pacing: from collecting lists of children from thousands of schools, and issuing specialized cards to each family, to federal approval still pending for 16 states, the benefit isn’t exactly being received in a timely manner.

According to The New York Times analysis, only 4.4 million children out of 30 million qualified (15 percent) had received payments as of May 15.[2]

And, although some schools and bus drivers have stepped up and delivered lunches to various bus stops around the nation, these gracious attempts are only reaching a fraction of the children that need them. A survey conducted by Elizabeth Ananat of Barnard College and Anna Gassman-Pines of Duke University states that the fraction of meals reaching families ranges from 11 percent to 36 percent.[3]

For the working parents whom rely on these lunches to feed their children during the day, their work performance is often the last thing on their minds.

What Employers Can Do to Help

As the economy reopens, working parents are facing an extreme amount of financial stress, having faced a loss of income or reduced income, which in turn caused food insecurity in their own homes.

Before the pandemic, 71 percent of employees said that they suffer from financial stress and over half reported that this stress interferes with their ability to focus and be productive at work.[4] That stress has only increased in the light of COVID-19.

Employers would be wise to acknowledge the psychological state of their employees and empathize in ways they may have never done before.

One of the ways in which employers can show they understand their employee’s current state is by offering financial wellness benefits.

As a holistic financial wellness company, PayActiv is the leading provider of Earned Wage Access (EWA), a benefit which allows workers to access their earned but unpaid wages between paychecks as they need them. For working parents with children, being able to access even fifty to a hundred dollars of their earned wages can have a tremendous effect on food insecurity.

Aside from timely access, PayActiv also offers their users other benefits such as financial counseling, savings and budgeting tools, access to Uber and Amazon shopping, and prescription discounts. Employers that partner with PayActiv’s award-winning platform see significant cost reductions to their businesses through increased engagement and retention, as employees show signs of less financial stress and a rise in productivity.

But immediate access to earned wages may not be enough. Employers are actively pursuing a variety of ways to support their employees at this time, whether that is increased hazard pay, a cash gift, or a donation made to the Access Foundation to alleviate financial hardship.

COVID-19 changed the world, but the problem of child hunger persisted before the pandemic and will continue to persist until necessary action is taken. Nearly a fifth of surveyed mothers said that their children were not getting enough to eat (a rate reported to be three times higher than the worst of the Great Recession).[5]

Although an overwhelming figure, employers still have the ability to evoke true change. Start by offering benefits that highlight the financial wellbeing of every employee, which means acknowledging that the timing of pay does matter.

Then, see where your compassion takes you.

[1] “Hunger Program’s Slow Start Leaves Millions of Children Waiting,” Jason DeParle, The New York Times, 2020.

[2] “Hunger Program’s Slow Start Leaves Millions of Children Waiting,” Jason DeParle, The New York Times, 2020.

[3] “Hunger Program’s Slow Start Leaves Millions of Children Waiting,” Jason DeParle, The New York Times, 2020.

[4] “Cost of Financial Stress,” Infographic, PayActiv, 2017.

[5]  “Hunger Program’s Slow Start Leaves Millions of Children Waiting,” Jason DeParle, The New York Times, 2020.

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