Thanksgiving 2020 will be one for the books for everyone. Although the holiday season is usually a time of celebration with friends and family, many households are limiting travel and fellowship this year to avoid contracting COVID-19 or contributing to community spread.
But Floridians who are out of a job due to the pandemic are poised to be particularly impacted, especially if they have mouths to feed. These families are struggling to stay afloat because their employers either closed down or scaled back. Others have been forced to stay home to take care of children who are not in school or daycare. Some are themselves sick with coronavirus or taking care of someone in the family who is infected.
Too many Floridians with children don’t know how they are going to put dinner on the table through the holidays. According to Census data, only 7 percent are sure that they will have enough to eat in the coming weeks. Almost half are either not confident or only somewhat confident that they will be able to afford food during Thanksgiving.
Even before the holidays, the pandemic had Floridians scrambling to feed their families any which way they could. More than 50 percent of families with children say that they have had to either take out a loan, use credit cards, tap into savings, sell things they own, or borrow money from friends or family just to have enough to eat. Only about 16 percent of Floridians with children report that they have a regular income source to meet their basic needs, like food, this holiday season.
Yet, despite their financial gymnastics, nearly 16 percent of families with children report that they did not have enough to eat in the past week. This is particularly true for people of color: about 41 percent of Black Floridians say that they often or sometimes did not have enough food in the past seven days.
Three things would help the Sunshine State respond to unprecedented food insecurity.
First, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (called food assistance in Florida) can go a long way to help families fill their refrigerators. SNAP, which is administered by Department of Children and Families (DCF), provides monthly food assistance to families with low income. Some of the ways that households can apply are through the computer from the privacy of their own home, or by calling DCF to either sign up over the phone or get a paper application mailed out. And forget the notion that SNAP is only for families with children or households with zero income. In Florida, The SNAP program is for almost any household in a crisis, no matter the size or composition — and applicants with income less than or equal to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) may be able to qualify so long as they have significant expenses like high housing and child care costs.
Second, Congress should pass a comprehensive relief package that includes a boost in SNAP benefits. Although SNAP is a highly effective and efficient program to address food insecurity, allotments aren’t high enough to last the whole month, even in the best of times.
Third, DCF needs to be timelier and more transparent about its plans for SNAP during COVID-19, such as by letting families know whether it will issue emergency allotments to current SNAP recipients in December. Emergency allotments go a long way to help many families participating in SNAP afford food for the month. Families should not be left hanging about those benefits. But DCF has not yet released any information about whether those emergency allotments are in the works, which causes enormous and unnecessary stress on people trying to put a budget together for the month.
Families don't have many dominoes left standing. Millions of Floridians worry every single day about food and other basic needs for themselves and their kids during the pandemic.
It’s not too late to salvage the holiday season. Even if Congress drags its feet on a relief package and DCF continues to hold details about benefits close to its vest, the SNAP program promises to keep dinner plates full. But only if families know about SNAP. Everyone should help get the word out that SNAP is there for households needing a lifeline during this unprecedented time of hardship.
 Census data is from data collected October 28 – November 9 by the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which provides weekly data on the impact of COVID-19 nation-wide and on individual states.
 DCF cautions that phone applications should be used to apply for SNAP as a last resort because of the time involved to complete a phone application.
 Although most families with low income are potentially eligible for SNAP, applicants must be citizens or have a qualified noncitizen status to qualify.
 Leading up to Thanksgiving, four out of five families with children report feeling nervous, anxious or on edge at least several days a week.