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Pandemic Costs

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

In recent weeks, the news has focused on the number of cases of Coronavirus and related deaths.  We are aware of the large amount of money and support that our federal government has made available, but I’m not sure we have focused enough on the resulting family disruption and hunger.  Families are struggling to feed their children.  Here in the U.S. Black and Hispanic families are suffering the most.  Billions and billions of dollars have been spent.  Now on Capitol Hill there is pressure to provide a 15% increase in food stamp benefits in a new Coronavirus Aid Package.

Policy research at Northwestern University reports that food insecurity in 2018 for Black households was 25%.  Today it is at 39%.  For Hispanics, in 2018 the number was 17% and today it is 37%.  The number for White children is not very good either – 22% is double what it was in 2018.  Here is how they measure food insecurity.  “a household that’s either uncertain about or unable to get enough food to feed everyone.”

We can expect another Coronavirus Aid Package and I think more food for those most needy should be part of it.  We have our own food challenges, but so does the rest of the world.  There are millions of families all over the world that don’t have the money to put food on the table.  The World Food Program said last week that it plans to “dramatically escalate food assistance to feed 138 million people this year.  The pandemic is making the poorest poorer and the hungriest hungrier.”  David Beasley, the World Food Program Executive Director, said “the world could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.” 

There is another consequence of the pandemic that I had not thought about.  Migrant workers from developing countries all over the world every year come to developed countries for work.  They come to the US.  They go to Germany, the UK, France, and other EU countries.  Millions of Filipino, Mexicans, South Americans and Indians find work overseas and send $554 billion back to their home countries.  They have come to rely on that cash.  But, with the Coronavirus global disruption, the money flow to those in need is expected to decline by 20%.  Hunger will multiply.

I have talked about how costly the pandemic has been to our ag industry, but we are not alone.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to

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