WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The food supply chain has so far been holding up under the pressure of the coronavirus crisis.
Grocery stores are meeting the demand and keeping most of their shelves stocked.
However, experts say they are not sure how long the system can survive the pressure the pandemic is putting on every level.
“The entire supply chain was emptied out from the stores back to the distribution centers back to the manufacturers,” said Cheryl Druehl, an associate professor at George Mason University.
Druehl says manufacturers have quickly adjusted to the pandemic, shifting production to focus on higher-need items and bypassing distribution centers to deliver directly to stores. But like other economic side effects of the coronavirus, a lot hinges on how long the industry has to wait until it can return to business as usual.
“The bigger concern is the financial stability of those smaller producers and even some of the large ones as well,” Druehl said.
Druehl warns if workers get sick or layoffs start happening at the production level, limited supply may force small grocers to close and larger stores to start enforcing widespread rationing.
Even if the supply chain holds, many Americans are already worrying about how to pay for the food they need.
“The unemployment rates have skyrocketed,” said Heather Taylor, the director of strategic communications and campaigns for Bread for the World. “They’re higher than ever.”
Taylor is asking Congress to pump more money into food assistance programs like SNAP to help the millions of new people who may need those benefits to buy food.
“Clearly, this pandemic will last for months, but the recovery process will extend even longer,” Taylor said.
Democrats are pushing to include that increased funding in the next round of coronavirus relief.