Wonky Word Wednesday: Food insecurity

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As we prepare to stuff our faces with our favorite holiday dishes, let’s not forget those who struggle finding a meal to eat each day. Forty eight million people (or one out of six  Americans) suffer from food insecurity. They are our elderly neighbors, your child’s classmate that goes home hungry after school, the military family re-entering civilian life , and other hard-working people. It’s a problem that has grown massively over time. CNN’s “Witnesses to hunger:  a portrait a food insecurity in America”  reported that food insecurity in America reached an all time high in 2011.

What exactly does “food insecurity” mean? It means that families can’t afford to put healthy food on their tables. Those affected by food insecurity are forced to make the tough decisions: am I going to pay bills, put gas in my car, or buy a decent, healthy meal for my family? The USDA describes various levels of food insecurity that people face, but those who are food insecure often face one of more of the following characteristics due to lack of money:

  • worry about their food running out
  • bought food and it didn’t last
  • couldn’t afford a balanced meal
  • cut or skipped meals for three months or more
  • were hungry but could not eat
  • lost weight because of insufficient amount of food
  • went an entire day without eating

According to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, over 560,000 Arkansans each year fit some form of the description – placing Arkansas above the national average in food insecurity. Particularly, children in Arkansas suffer because of food insecurity.  At one point, Arkansas ranked 1st in child hunger, but government programs and local initiatives like No Kid Hungry have reduced child hunger in this state and lowered our ranking.

But there’s something we can do about it.

In Arkansas, there is a collaborative effort of organizations who are dedicated to decreasing food insecurity in this state. The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance serves as the education and advocacy arm of that collaborative. Six food banks: the Arkansas Food Bank, the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, Harvest Texarkana Regional Food Bank, River Valley Regional Food Bank, and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank all collect and provide food directly to people in need. Additionally, numerous churches, community organizations, and other local groups have food pantries or feeding programs to serve the community.

On the federal level, there are targeted programs that assist women and babies, children in schools, the elderly, and people with low means. The most commonly known program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has helped reduce levels of food insecurity nationwide. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report found that SNAP particularly has had “impressive results in meeting the needs of low-income Americans while maintaining strong program integrity and payment accuracy.” In regards to cost and impact, another recent CBPP report found that the SNAP program costs and the number of people needing SNAP is starting to decrease nationwide.

In other words, the programs are working and collectively continue to reduce food insecurity in Arkansas. So, what can we do to stay on the right track?

  • Encourage our elected officials to continue funding programs like SNAP, WIC, and School meals that give relief to thousands of Arkansans
  • Creating a state level, refundable earned income tax credit to give financial relief to families so that they can have more money for nutritional meals
  • Continue supporting local organizations that provide food assistance to people in need