Fewer Americans are Experiencing Food Hardship, but More Work Remains

Last week, FRAC (Food Research and Action Center) released “How Hungry is America,” its National, State, and Local Index of Food Hardship. The report highlights that overall, food hardship—defined as experiencing a time within the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed—has decreased in the U.S., but millions of Americans still face food insecurity. The report proposes solutions including broadening eligibility criteria for food assistance programs such as free and reduced price meal programs in schools, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as increasing participation among those who are eligible for such programs.

Overall, the nation has made considerable progress in reducing food hardship since the height of the recession. The rate of food hardship fell from nearly 19 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2015. FRAC attributes this decrease to higher employment rates, as well as increased access to social safety net programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). As CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden recently testified before Congress, research consistently shows that the nation’s core economic security programs “sharply reduce poverty, improve nutrition and health care for millions of children, families, and individuals, and promote work.”

Despite the evidence on the effectiveness of these programs in reducing poverty and food hardship, Congress is considering legislation that would reduce people’s access to these programs. Last month, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a policy paper that purported to offer new ideas for addressing poverty in America, but actually rehashed bad proposals that have been shown to be counterproductive, including block grants, implementing work requirements, and cutting key programs. In addition, the House has also introduced the misleadingly named “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003). This bill would weaken Community Eligibility, which is a provision which has allowed more than 18,000 high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all of their students, without having to bring in burdensome paperwork. H.R. 5003 would reduce the number of students who receive free meals, and would compromise the research-based nutrition standards of the students’ meals, snacks, and beverages.

According to the report, one in six households nationally did not have enough money to put food on the table in the past year. Families in every community across the U.S. suffer from food insecurity. Although food hardship is at its lowest rate in eight years, it is still unacceptably high. FRAC outlined the following recommendations to address the issues of hunger, poverty, and reduced opportunity:

  • Higher employment rates;
  • More full-time jobs and jobs with hours and schedules that fit the needs of working parents;
  • Better wages and job benefits;
  • Stronger income supports for those out of work, unable to work, or working at low wages; and
  • Expanded nutrition programs.

Hunger and poor nutrition interfere with people’s ability to succeed in school and at work, and can have long-lasting effects on health and development. We know how to reduce food hardship and hunger; what we need is the political will to do so.