Access and enrollment in safety net programs in the wake of COVID-19: A national crosssectional survey

Brendan Saloner, Sarah E. Gollust, Colin Planalp, Lynn A. Blewett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The global COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented job loss and financial strain. It is unclear how those most directly experiencing economic impacts may seek assistance from disparate safety net programs. To identify self-reported economic hardship and enrollment in major safety net programs before and early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we compared individuals with COVID-19 related employment or earnings reduction with other individuals. We created a set of questions related to COVID-19 economic impact that was added to a cross-sectional, nationally representative online survey of American adults (age ≥18, English-speaking) in the AmeriSpeak panel fielded from April 23-27, 2020. All analyses were weighted to account for survey non-response and known oversampling probabilities. We calculated unadjusted bivariate differences, comparing people with and without COVID- 19 employment and earnings reductions with other individuals. Our study looked primarily at awareness and enrollment in seven major safety net programs before and since the pandemic (Medicaid, health insurance marketplaces/exchanges, unemployment insurance, food pantries/free meals, housing/renters assistance, SNAP, and TANF). Overall, 28.1% of all individuals experienced an employment reduction (job loss or reduced earnings). Prior to the pandemic, 39.0% of the sample was enrolled in ≥1 safety net program, and 50.0% of individuals who subsequently experienced COVID-19 employment reduction were enrolled in at least one safety net program. Those who experienced COVID-19 employment reduction versus those who did not were significantly more likely to have applied or enrolled in ≥1 program (45.9% versus 11.7%, p<0.001) and also significantly more likely to specifically have enrolled in unemployment insurance (29.4% versus 5.4%, p < .001) and SNAP (16.8% versus 2.8%, p = 0.028). The economic devastation from COVID-19 increases the importance of a robust safety net.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0240080
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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