Widespread pandemic job disruption, high risk groups, reliance on food banks and unemployment benefits among research findings

Nearly one in four Vermonters is experiencing food insecurity as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the Green Mountain State, a University of Vermont statewide survey finds.

With federal unemployment benefits in limbo, the study found that over 50% of households have reported job loss or disruption since March, with one in five respondents receiving unemployment benefits. More than half of respondents had experienced unemployment, furlough, or had recently had work hours reduced.

People are increasingly using emergency food to help with constraints on food access, the survey finds, including a 68% increase in the use of food pantries, and a 49% increase in the use of SNAP/3Squares VT programs between March and June. Many respondents, especially those unemployed, reported using multiple food assistance programs.

“Vermonters have been hit hard by food insecurity and job shocks, even with our state’s relatively successful COVID-19 efforts,” says UVM researcher Meredith Niles, lead author of the research. “These findings show that government and community support remains critical to help avoid a perfect storm of ongoing risks.”

Researchers found that Vermonters most likely to experience food insecurity are: people of color (4 times greater), those without a college degree (3.8 times greater), those with a job loss (3.5 times greater), households with children (2 times greater), women (1.8 times greater) and younger people, compared to older people.

The research does offer some good news: While current food insecurity levels (23%) are more than double pre-COVID state-level data (11.3% in 2018), they are lower than the survey’s rate in March. The research also found that Vermonters have fewer concerns about food availability than in March, but were more concerned in June than March about rising food costs and loss of food assistance programs.

This the second study in ongoing research into COVID-19’s impacts on food access in Vermont over time. The findings are from a June survey of a statewide representative sample of over 1,200 Vermonters, tracking changes to the same people since March.

The research team includes Niles, Farryl Bertmann, Emily Belarmino (UVM), Anna Josephson (University of Arizona), and Roni Neff (Johns Hopkins University). 

Next month, Niles and team will report U.S. findings via the new National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT). NFACT is a new national research collaboration across 15 states led by scientists at the University of Vermont, Johns Hopkins University, University of Arizona, and Arizona State University to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on food access and security and advance policy and decision-making. 

NFACT and the Vermont studies are supported by COVID-19 response funding from UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President of Research.