Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvanians Are Experiencing Hunger at Highest Levels Since Onset of Pandemic

At the end of 2020, more than 12% of Pennsylvania households were experiencing hunger — the highest rate since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Their report confirms anecdotal and media reports and highlights the role that community resources, such as food pantries and free school lunches, are playing in the state.

“We’ve seen the media accounts of exceptionally long lines at food banks and wanted to get a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem,” said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD).

“Our synthesis suggests that while the state’s rate of food insufficiency tends to be lower than the nation’s as a whole, it is still a significant and growing problem,” he said. “More than one in 10 households in Pennsylvania sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat last year, and food insufficiency status has grown worse for all but the wealthiest Pennsylvanians since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Goetz and his colleagues examined data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, a survey administered in three phases beginning in 2020 to a randomly selected representative sample of U.S. households. The goal of the survey is to better understand the social and economic effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on households across the country.

Survey respondents answer questions about their employment status, food and housing security, education disruptions, and physical and mental well-being. When responding to questions about food sufficiency and availability, they base their answers on the previous seven days.

Focusing on Pennsylvania, the researchers analyzed the survey data to assess the most recent levels of household food security, how food security has changed over the course of the pandemic, and how households in different income brackets have experienced the crisis. They also assessed how families have adapted to food insufficiency by accessing free food. They released their findings this week in a new report titled “Pennsylvania Food Insufficiency Reached New High at the End of 2020.”

The report shows that food insufficiency in Pennsylvania is closely linked to the state’s unemployment rate. During weeks when unemployment claims are at their highest in the state, reports of food insufficiency also are relatively high, or rising. For policymakers, this underscores the close connection between income from working and food security of individuals. Community safety nets, such as free school lunches and food pantries, play a significant role in meeting household food needs.

“Our synthesis shows an increasingly dire food insecurity situation for many households in Pennsylvania and beyond,” Goetz said. “As the pandemic drags on, it is likely to become an even more serious problem as families deplete their savings and are forced to choose between paying for food or paying for other necessities.”

The report is part of an ongoing series of briefs and reports authored by NERCRD researchers, focusing on the coronavirus pandemic in the context of direct farm sales, the fruit and vegetable industry, consumer spending and sourcing, network science, and regional science.

The center also has available the data included in the report for other states in the northeastern U.S.

Congress Breaks for Recess, but Momentum Moves Toward Passage of Additional COVID-19 Relief 

Following the acquittal of former President Donald Trump Saturday, the House and Senate returned to their home Districts and States for the scheduled President’s Day recess. However, last week, House Committees began markup of the next COVID-19 relief package. Passed out of Committee were instructions to the House Budget Committee to begin drafting the final text of the COVID-19 relief package. The Senate is expected to move on the final package the following week.

Biden Administration Purchases Additional COVID-19 Vaccine Doses 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) announced they have purchased an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna. Consistent with President Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, the United States government has now placed enough orders to have a total of 600 million doses ready for distribution. NRHA is excited by the progress being made in distributing vaccines as quickly as possible but continues to urge the new Administration to be mindful of the challenges rural providers and patients are facing. Because of this, NRHA has asked the Administration to provide additional resources to rural areas to help quickly distribute the vaccine.

Midwestern Public Health Rural Health Podcast Series

In more than 40 episodes ranging from 15 minutes to an hour in length, the Midwestern Public Health Training Center looks at challenges and success stories that include mental health, leadership, tackling equity, and the impact of COVID-19. Since last month the series has had a rural health focus, with episodes celebrating arts and culture, rural food systems, and the reality of working in a rural hospital during the pandemic. Find more information here.

MACPAC: Medicaid’s Role in Health Care for AI/AN

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) is a nonpartisan agency in the legislative branch that analyzes policy and makes recommendations to federal and state-level policymakers.  In this report, MACPAC provides an overview of the federal government’s role in providing health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), including the structure of the Indian Health Service and the special Medicaid rules and protections that apply to AI/AN beneficiaries and Indian health providers.

CDC: Trends in Drug and Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths

In the February 12 issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, cocaine, and psychostimulants.  During the period studied, 2013 – 2019, synthetic opioid deaths largely consisted of illicitly manufactured fentanyl.  In 2019, a total of 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred, an increase of 4.3 percent over deaths in 2018.