COVID-19 is impacting all segments of society, but for people who live with poverty, experience health inequities, earn minimum wages, and lack trust in a system that has failed them in the past, the outbreak is feeling especially brutal and disconcerting. In fact, COVID-19 has further exposed long-time inequities in access to our health care, education, and economic systems, and Latinos and other low- and middle-income workers will bear the disproportionate brunt of these harms. For example, findings from a UnidosUS Affiliate survey on COVID-19 (fielded March 13-18, 2020) demonstrated that Latino communities are experiencing income insecurity, anxiety, and fear in accessing health care services (due to immigration status, public charge ruling, screening/treatment costs, etc.), food insecurity (school closures, loss of jobs, etc.), and lack of access to technology as many families do not have access to broadband or equipment. There is also overall confusion about COVID-19 due to lack of culturally appropriate information.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Alejandra Gepp, and Elizabeth Carrillo
Just as our survey showed, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems stated in their latest report from April 14 that the COVID-19 health crisis “is rapidly exacerbating an ongoing food security and nutrition crisis.” With schools closed, children who rely on free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunch in their school to get a nutritious meal suddenly didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Families living paycheck-to-paycheck who lost their source of income are now struggling to put food on their tables. Even worse, most families who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition aid can neither stock up on food nor buy online like many parts of the population are doing right now.
All these circumstances are “especially impacting Latino and Black households, who are more likely to experience food insecurity (16.2% and 21.2%, respectively) than the national average (11.1%),” as Amanda Merck, content curator for Salud America!, explains.
Of all the SNAP participants, 17% are Latino (about 10 million people in 2016). And even though there are initiatives like UnidosUS’s Comprando Rico y Sano (CRS) helping our community to learn of the program, and enroll those eligible (in 2018-2019, more than 23,600 Latinos enrolled in SNAP through CRS), recent disenrollment trends due to fear have left more people who need food very vulnerable at this time.
SNAP, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides a supplement to the food budget of families in need; however, studies show that this supplement falls short of actual meal costs by $46.50 per person, per month. To further complicate matters, since SNAP benefits are allocated monthly and limited, it is difficult for families to stock up during this crisis.
Just as the pandemic has exposed long-time inequities in health care access, it has also highlighted the critical role that federal nutrition programs play in helping families put food on the table and make ends meet.
THE IMPACT OF COMPRANDO RICO Y SANO
As our community deals with the consequences of COVID-19, those who have participated in the UnidosUS’s Comprando Rico y Sano program have an array of tools to work through food insecurity. CRS does more than providing enrollment assistance in SNAP and helping to reduce food insecurity. Its nutrition education component is increasing program’s participants knowledge of how to eat healthier and make the most of limited resources, a very valuable tool now for families struggling to put food on their tables.
One of CRS’s hands-on activities led by promotores de salud includes grocery stores tours in which participants are challenged to purchase a healthy and nutritious meal for a family of four under $5. At first, participants are always doubtful of being able to accomplish the challenge, until they learn how easy it is to actually do when they apply what the learned during a previous CRS charla (small educational session). These lessons are now instilled in the shopping habits of 60,255 Latinos who participated in our CRS program in 2018-2019 across 26 communities in the United States.
Cooking at home and eating reasonable portions are also key learnings of the Comprando Rico y Sano curriculum, and during last year’s program, 51% of participants increased the healthy meals they prepare at home, 52% of participants increased their fruit intake, and 51% their vegetables intake.
INFOGRAPHIC: How SNAP Benefits Our Families and the Economy
THE RESILIENCE OF UNIDOS US AFFILIATES
One of UnidosUS Comprando Rico y Sano subgrantees is our Affiliate Latino Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Alliance (LAMDA). They have been a CRS grantee since 2014, and over 2,000 people were reached through face-to-face charlas and other outreach activities in 2018-2019.
COVID-19 is a novel situation for all of us. Affiliates have been on the front lines serving still local communities and finding ways to continue supporting the most vulnerable in our community with the resources at their disposal. For example, promotores de salud, as trusted sources in communities, are informing individuals and families about COVID-19 and available access points for food; addressing fears and confusion around impact of pandemic, especially among mixed-status families; and instituting creative ways to help families with food access (SNAP enrollment and recertifications to those eligible, referrals to food banks, helping complete unemployment forms, etc.). LAMDA has especially stood out because they started using new technologies to create online videos highlighting the messages of the CRS curriculum before the pandemic, and now they have proven to be visionaries.
Their idea of using those new technologies started by creating online videos to engage the families of senior citizens they serve: “We posted their activities in our social media and their families liked them, and we saw that it was an important tool,” LAMDA’s President and CEO Constantina Mizis explains.
To continue reaching a higher segment of our community, with a focus on providing valuable information to an older adult population—the most vulnerable during this pandemic—Enrique Jiménez, Program Director at LAMDA, saw the opportunity of creating a video series. Dressed up as a chef, Jiménez stars these videos where he shares some of the Comprando Rico y Sano lessons, and their engagement and views are always in the thousands. “Videos and pictures say a lot with a few words,” he says. “We want to convey the information in an attractive way.”
Now the team at LAMDA is taking this approach one step further, and is asking their clients and supporters to share their own video recipes of their favorite foods from their home. “We have received a lot of gratitude for putting these videos out,” Jiménez explains.
LAMDA was founded with lots of determination, belief, and humility. Mizis knew there was a need for an alliance like LAMDA, an organization that would provide information and resources to Latinos taking care of their loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. And, during the COVID-19 health crisis, their work has even become more essential.
“I strongly believed that this information was needed, that people wanted it,” Mizis explains. “There were tough moments, but I never stopped believing in LAMDA.” She also believes CRS is a very important program for the community they serve, to teach an older adult population about good nutrition. “It is part of closing the circle of risk factors that affect memory loss because of bad nutrition. Everything goes together,” said Mizis.
This blog post is part of Comprando Rico y Sano, a program supported by the Walmart Foundation.