The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased food insecurity in the United States (US). The objective of this study was to understand the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic among low-income adults in the US as social distancing measures began to be implemented. On 19–24 March 2020 we fielded a national, web-based survey (53% response rate) among adults with <250% of the federal poverty line in the US (N
= 1478). Measures included household food security status and COVID-19-related basic needs challenges. Overall, 36% of low-income adults in the US were food secure, 20% had marginal food security, and 44% were food insecure. Less than one in five (18.8%) of adults with very low food security reported being able to comply with public health recommendations to purchase two weeks of food at a time. For every basic needs challenge, food-insecure adults were significantly more likely to report facing that challenge, with a clear gradient effect based on severity of food security. The short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are magnifying existing disparities and disproportionately affecting low-income, food-insecure households that already struggle to meet basic needs. A robust, comprehensive policy response is needed to mitigate food insecurity as the pandemic progresses.
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