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COVID-19’s avoidable food desertification of the U.S.

Due to the Trump administration’s disregard toward predictions from epidemiologists and White House advisors about limited personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles, as well the virus during its early stages, food shortages have skyrocketed across the country.  


The United States is experiencing food insecurity beyond the average household. The food industry has taken a serious blow. It’s at risk for loss of labor due to social distancing guidelines as well as illnesses in the workplace. This has caused shortages of food across the U.S.


For example, there was a huge outbreak of coronavirus cases at a Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota with over 600 confirmed cases, causing it to shut down temporarily. Smithfield employees alleged that early on they had requested PPE, but never got anything even after Trump had signed an executive order deeming the business essential. Trump’s hypocritical policy is what has caused so many outbreaks within factories around the country. It was also reported that sick workers were encouraged to continue working, and that information about the virus was withheld from them. With meat plants across the country carrying cases, many of the plants have to either sell their livestock or siphon the meat that would have gone to the shut down food plants to other states with locations. 


A lot of the food industry is held together by the work of immigrants and migrant workers, which is what is causing a huge concern right now for the companies, as well as the workers. With these people working essential jobs, they are pushed to continue to work without health insurance provided by the companies they’re working for, potentially without proper PPE, and continue to receive minimum wage. The safety net of immigrant and migrant workers is also a lot less reliable than that of the typical American citizen, and access to pandemic aid packages is a lot more restricted to them based on their citizenship status. This means these people are forced to continue working while many Americans have unemployment benefits as well as stimulus checks.


Additionally, the lost incomes of immigrant and migrant workers who have fallen ill from the virus or who have lost their jobs has a huge affect on food security on the global scale. If immigrants start sending less money to their home nations, their families will lose the stability they rely on from them. If food prices continue to rise because they’re in shortage, low-income families across the world won’t be able to eat. 


The agricultural industry requires a lot of labor, of which 27.6% are immigrant workers across the U.S. Without the help of migrant workers, who also largely contribute to this work, they will not be able to plant or harvest as much as they used to. But it’s not just the agricultural portion that suffers—it’s every sector. Over 3.8 million immigrants work in the U.S. food sector. This is why we are seeing a change in food supply during the global pandemic. 


While the entire U.S. is experiencing food shortages, there are clearly people who are most at risk for food insecurity. Households with children under 18 have experienced a 130% increase of food insecurity since 2018–present. For many, this is because their children are no longer going to school, where they would regularly eat breakfast and lunch. Fortunately, many school districts across the nation have begun to develop ways to get food to their students. 


College students, on the other hand, do not have these same benefits. When coronavirus caused school to move completely online, students had to worry about every aspect of their lives. Many of them had to leave their dorms and lost their campus jobs. For a lot, leaving their dorms was not an option. Food insecurity is affecting college students harshly, as many rely on their campus food pantry and dining halls for meals. Some international students had to go back to countries where the virus was more widespread at the time. A lot of students who could not afford any of these options, especially because they lost their jobs, became houseless as well. 


There is hope for students, nonetheless. Although many college students did not receive the stimulus check because they were claimed as dependents, the CARES act was passed on March 27 and is meant to give direct economic assistance to the American people. The CARES act specifically sent colleges grant money for students, which they can receive after applying for aid assistance. 


Although the Trump administration has caused an infinite amount of hardships for the American people during these unprecedented times due to initial disregard to the coronavirus pandemic, legislation involving aid packages for Americans as well as broadened access to PPE has given many people hope at this time.