The Social Safety Net in the Wake of Covid-19

48 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2020 Last revised: 19 Nov 2021

See all articles by Marianne P. Bitler

Marianne P. Bitler

University of California, Davis - Departments of Economics and Agricultural Resource Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Hilary Williamson Hoynes

University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Northwestern University

Date Written: September 2020

Abstract

The COVID-19 crisis has led to spiking unemployment rates with disproportionate impacts on low-income families. School and child-care center closures have also meant lost free- and reduced-price school meals. Food prices have increased sharply leading to reduced purchasing power for families’ limited income. The Families First Coronavirus Act and the CARES Act included robust responses including expansions to unemployment insurance (expansions in eligibility and $600 per week supplement), a one-time payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent, an increase in SNAP payments, and the launch of the Pandemic EBT program to replace lost school meals. Despite these efforts, real time data show significant distress – notably food insecurity rates have increased almost three times over the pre-COVID rates and food pantry use has also spiked. In this paper, we explore why there is so much unmet need despite a robust policy response. We provide evidence for three explanations: (1) timing - relief came with a substantial delay (due to overwhelmed UI systems/need to implement new programs); (2) magnitude – payments outside UI are modest; and (3) coverage gaps – access is lower for some groups and other groups are statutorily excluded.

Suggested Citation

Bitler, Marianne P. and Hoynes, Hilary Williamson and Schanzenbach, Diane Whitmore, The Social Safety Net in the Wake of Covid-19 (September 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3687952

Marianne P. Bitler (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - Departments of Economics and Agricultural Resource Economics ( email )

United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Hilary Williamson Hoynes

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Northwestern University

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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