Suffering, the Safety Net, and Disparities During COVID-19

Marianne P. Bitler*, Hilary W. Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The economic and public health crisis caused by COVID-19 was devastating and disproportionately hurt Blacks and Hispanics and some other groups. Unemployment rates and other measures of material hardship were higher and increased more during the crisis among Blacks and Hispanics than among non-Hispanic Whites. Congress authorized a historic policy response, incorporating both targeted and universal supports, and expanding both the level and duration of benefits. This response yielded the remarkable result of an estimated decline in the Supplemental Poverty Measure between 2019 and 2020. We study administrative data to investigate the impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the crisis. We find that participation in SNAP increased more in counties that experienced a larger employment shock. By contrast, the increase in total SNAP benefits was inversely related to the employment shock. The SNAP benefit increases were less generous to Black and Hispanic SNAP participants than to White.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-59
Number of pages28
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • Child Tax Credit
  • COVID-19
  • Economic Impact payments
  • poverty
  • racial-ethnic disparities
  • safety net
  • SNAP
  • unemployment insurance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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