One Year In: COVID-19 and Food Assistance by the Numbers

a chart showing application volume by month

One year ago today, the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a global pandemic. In the days and weeks that followed, cities, counties, and states across the US issued stay-at-home orders in efforts to curb the virus and “flatten the curve” for hospital systems. With those orders, industries transformed, and schools closed, millions of people turned to the government for assistance—at a time when government offices were closed.

A year into the pandemic, every single one of us has seen our lives and livelihoods altered. And those who have felt the effects of that year the hardest are those who were already most marginalized in our country. Today, one in seven households with children is still reporting that they sometimes or often don’t have enough to eat.

Last spring, we published our insights into how the pandemic was driving unprecedented need for food assistance through GetCalFresh data. Now, one year into this crisis, we’re sharing statistics as well as words from our clients that show how this pandemic has affected all of our lives.

In the past year, we've received nearly 1.5 million applications for GetCalFresh
“I am a recently housed veteran with severe PTSD, 14 days into stable housing. I have no food, my cell phone's about to be shut off, and my vehicle registration is due. I am receiving intensive mental health care and unable to work for a few more weeks. I need some help to get on my feet. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.” 
GetCalFresh applicant
a chart showing application volume by month
GetCalFresh applications spiked in spring 2020 and again over the holidays, and remains at incredibly high volume today compared to before the pandemic
“I lost my job due to COVID and am burning through my unemployment money. I am unable to keep up with my children’s food intake as they are growing rapidly and very active. I also cannot seem to get ahead with other medical payments I have to cover. I do not receive any child support, so I am looking for help for with both medical care and food for my children.” 
GetCalFresh applicant
The number of applicants with children in their household also grew significantly, as many families lost income and sought assistance to help meet basic needs
“I was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic in March. I am applying for food stamps now because I am living off unemployment money and savings, making me unable to buy food on my own. I have been actively seeking work, but I have not been able to find a job yet. I have a mental illness disability which makes this quite difficult. Because of this, I am also attending school full-time this summer to achieve my bachelor's degree and open up more opportunities.” 
GetCalFresh applicant
a graph of applicants who had lost their jobs
The number of GetCalFresh applicants reporting a recently lost job skyrocketed when stay-at-home orders went into effect last spring, and has remained high throughout the pandemic