5 things to know about… food insecurity

Person with blue latex gloves on ladeling soup into a bowl

Hunger forces families in every community across the United States to make impossible choices. That is, according to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the country.

To educate the public about hunger and encourage them to take action, the organization has designated September as Hunger Action Month, a call for everyone to do their part to fight hunger through advocacy, volunteer work, fundraising and more.Ultimately, the hope is that through action, those facing hunger in the United States—one in eight people and one in six children—can get access to the resources they need to live healthier lives.

To better understand the challenges surrounding food insecurity—the lack of consistent access to the needed amount of food—The Daily  talked with Robert L. Fischer, associate professor and co-director of the Center on Poverty and Community Development, which is dedicated to understanding how social and economic changes affect low-income communities and their residents.

1. Food insecurity is widespread.

More than 34 million people, 26% of whom are children, in the United States are food insecure. The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic. In northeast Ohio, one in six people face food insecurity. Local partners in Feeding America’s national network, including the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, seek to address hunger and food insecurity through a variety of local solutions.

2. Families face hard trade-offs.

Many households experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support. On a monthly basis, families face trade-offs between food and other necessary expenses. More than two-thirds of food insecure families face a choice between food and utilities, transportation, and medical care. These difficult choices cause families to have to jeopardize their employment, housing and health in order to have food.

3. Food insecurity impacts health. 

Food insecurity can exacerbate poor health. Food insecurity is shown to lead to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. More than half the households the Feeding America network serves have at least one member living with high blood pressure and more than one-third have a member with diabetes. Children in food insecure families are more likely to be in poor health and struggle in school.

4. Inflation impacts food security.

Though federally funded food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP) reaches many households, rising prices due to inflation reduces the purchasing power of these benefits. In 2022, all food prices are predicted to increase 9%, and food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 10-11%. Prices for meats increased 15.2% between 2021-22. Retail egg prices are 25% higher. These rising prices force families to choose cheaper, often less healthy, food options.

5. Federal food assistance only does so much.

The primary federally funded food aid program (SNAP) reached some 21 million households in June 2022 but has serious limitations. First, it requires gross income below 130% of the federal poverty line ($34,452 for a family of four), so many near-poor and low-income families simply do not qualify. Second, SNAP benefits are limited in generosity. Though the maximum benefit for a family of four is $835 per month, this amount is reduced by the 30% of a families actual income that is expected to be spent on food. SNAP benefits often do not stretch to cover a full month, leading many families to rely on local food pantries or go without food toward the end of the month.

This story appeared in The Daily on Sept. 27, 2022.