By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity increased rapidly in the United States. People with disabilities were more likely to be food insecure than nondisabled people prior to the pandemic. Despite this, and the fact that they faced increased barriers and risks during the pandemic, less is known about people with disabilities’ access to food during the pandemic. For this reason, the aim of this study conducted by CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership was to explore the food security of people with disabilities during the pandemic. To do so, we analyzed United States Census Bureau data (2020-2021) from 70,000 Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities (under 65). The data were weighted to align with population demographics.
We found 55.7% of people with disabilities who were Medicare beneficiaries did not have enough to eat during the pandemic or did not have the kinds of foods they wanted to eat (figure right). The most common reasons Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities did not have enough to eat were because they could not afford to buy food (56.9%), stores did not have the food they wanted (31.4%), and because they were afraid to go out or did not want to go out to buy food (30.0%; figure below).
Access to Food During the Pandemic
Reasons People Did Not Have Enough Food During the Pandemic
People were also asked how confident they were about their household’s ability to afford needed food for the next month. Only 28.4% of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities felt ‘very confident’ that they would be able to afford the food they needed (figure right). In fact, almost half of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities said they were either not at all confident, or only somewhat confident that they would be able to afford food in the next month.
Ability to Afford Food for the Next Month
We also found Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities who were female, people of color, had less education, from a larger household, lower income, and dual eligible (Medicare and Medicaid) were all more likely to be food insecure during the pandemic. “The pandemic reinforced existing disparities, and intensified them for marginalized groups, including when it comes to food insecurity… A multipronged approach to food insecurity that addresses public health and other systems and structures, ranging from disability services to discrimination, is critical” (Friedman, 2021, pp. 11-13).
This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: Friedman, C. (2021). Food insecurity of people with disabilities who were Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disability and Health Journal, 14(4), 101166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2021.101166
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