Hunger in the US Remains an Urgent Crisis Despite Progress During Pandemic
Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) people facing hunger agree that federal and local governments should treat food insecurity as an urgent crisis despite headlines asserting an improving economy and lower unemployment rates, according to a new Feeding America report. Feeding America’s nationally representative Elevating Voices: Insights Report reflects the firsthand experiences, concerns, and ideas of more than 1,000 people, and 12 Native American communities, who have received charitable food assistance and/or who have experienced food insecurity in the last two years.
“Even as tens of millions of people continue to seek resources at foodbanks and pantries across the country, there’s reason for hope. A hunger-free America is within our grasp, if we seek guidance directly from communities facing hunger as indispensable partners in this work,” says Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “Our commitment to place the voices of people with lived and living experience at the center of our work is foundational to our approach. The roadmap they’ve given us is clear. To provide hunger relief today and to end food insecurity—for good—tomorrow, we must address root causes and system-level issues, including housing, health care, and public transportation, and we must do so with an equity lens, to cocreate solutions where each person has the food they need to thrive.”
The report found more than 8 in 10 (81%) neighbors facing hunger believe that inflation and food prices have exacerbated hunger in America, with 9 in 10 (93%) saying they’re concerned the situation may worsen. Neighbors also say high-priced housing, losing a job and being unemployed, or too many low-wage jobs are key factors impacting food insecurity.
“The experience of living with food insecurity—it’s embarrassing, it’s hurtful, it makes you feel less than a mom when you can’t feed your children,” says Keisha Williams, a neighbor advocate from Oklahoma. “It takes a lot out of you to have to go and ask for help to be able to feed your children. And another thing about food insecurity is that people may not always look like you’d think they would look if they’re food insecure. They might be well-dressed, they might be well-spoken, they may even be educated, but they can still be experiencing food insecurity.”
“We’re determined not to give up, to be part of the movement, to be part of the search for resources, to be involved in order to also progress in the future,” says Jovita Francisco Morales, a neighbor advocate from Minnesota.
The report’s four key areas of focus were informed by neighbor insights and provide Feeding America’s policy recommendations for a hunger-free America. The categories are prioritizing dignity, increasing access, expanding opportunity, and improving health.
Prioritizing Dignity: Neighbor insights affirm that everyone deserves dignified access to food. Nine out of 10 (92%) neighbors say that any policies passed by Congress to reduce hunger and food insecurity must make it easier for children and adults to qualify for and enroll in food assistance programs when they need help. Policy recommendations that center on dignity include the following:
- • Congress should set SNAP benefits at an adequate level to ensure individuals and families can purchase enough nutritious foods.
- The USDA, including its work with states, should reduce barriers to The Emergency Food
Assistance Program (TEFAP) eligibility, such as minimizing paperwork for people seeking assistance, making it easier for working families to receive TEFAP foods, and reducing paperwork requirements for food banks and neighbors receiving TEFAP foods.
Increasing Access: Neighbor insights reinforce that getting their food of choice remains a primary challenge compared with the previous year. About one in three neighbors (31%) identified access to grocery stores, food banks, and other assistance as factors impacting food insecurity. Policy recommendations to increase access include the following:
- Congress should increase funding for TEFAP—for food purchases and storage and distribution costs—through the 2023 Farm Bill.
- Congress should improve and simplify access to the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program by allowing more schools to offer free meals to all students by expanding community eligibility and increasing opportunities to directly certify children for free meals.
Expanding Opportunity: Neighbor insights demonstrate that it will take more than food to end hunger—food security is directly tied to economic well-being. Nearly seven out of 10 (67%) neighbors think high inflation and rising food prices are related to the root causes of hunger and food insecurity in America. Neighbors also cite several other issues they say are related to the root causes of hunger and food insecurity in America, such as high cost of rent or buying a home (55%), losing a job and being unemployed (44%), too many low-wage jobs (42%), and having a chronic health condition or disability (32%). Policy recommendations that would tackle intersecting root causes, such as economic and social conditions, include the following:
- Congress should adequately fund and improve state employment and training programs, ensure SNAP recipients are offered training opportunities that align with best practices, and remove the time limit on SNAP benefits to support participants as they find work.
- Congress should improve the SNAP benefit-taper structure to reduce the “benefits cliff.” Raising income thresholds to phase out benefits more gradually, as individuals receiving SNAP benefits begin to earn more income, will provide people with more stability on the path toward self-sufficiency.
Improving Health: Everyone should have access to fresh, healthful foods that boost physical, emotional, and mental well-being without having to sacrifice other necessities. More than nine in 10 neighbors (93%) agreed that regular access to healthful foods makes a person feel better physically, emotionally, and mentally. Health-focused policy recommendations include the following:
- Congress should support and fund produce prescription initiatives through US Department of Health and Human Services programs. These programs can provide patients with diet-related diseases—as well as people facing hunger—with fresh produce and other nutritious foods to improve health.
- Congress should support and provide funding for food pantries located in health care settings. These pantries help medical staff immediately provide healthful food to patients facing hunger who also are at risk of readmission for nutrition-related reasons.
Source: Feeding America