Food Insecurity is a Year-Round Problem

December is a peak time for charitable giving. As we gather for the holidays to enjoy food and tradition, many of us are drawn to help families and children who are hungry. While these efforts are generous and necessary, many families need assistance beyond the holidays—and beyond what charity can provide. In a recently released book, $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, researchers Katheryn Edin and Luke Shaefer describe the struggles of families living in extreme poverty in America. The Coalition on Human Needs will host a special webinar on December 22 with the authors and a panel of experts, which will highlight their findings.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 48.1 million Americans (14 percent of all households) suffered from food insecurity at some point during 2014, meaning they had limited access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. These individuals may run out of food, cut portion sizes, or skip meals altogether. A recent White House report documents the severe consequences of food insecurity for children, including those who are not born yet. A lack of adequate food for pregnant women affects in utero development. And during critical development years, a lack of food impairs a child’s physical and cognitive health and affects their ability to learn in school. For adults, food insecurity increases health problems and contributes to academic and workplace challenges.

Several nutrition programs exist to support those in need, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP serves over 46 million individuals with a modest monthly benefit for food purchases, without which families would fall further into poverty. SNAP reduces food insecurity by 5-10 percent, according to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Although SNAP increases families’ access to food, the modest monthly benefit does not eliminate insecurity. Many SNAP recipients turn to charitable sources, such as food banks, particularly at the end of the month when they may have exhausted their benefits. Food banks provide vital services to their communities, but, as Kate Maehr of the Greater Chicago Food Depository testified this year, they cannot replace national nutrition programs.

For those of us fortunate to enjoy meals with loved ones this season, we should be grateful for what we have and remember the families who are food insecure. In a country where excess is the norm, especially during the holidays, we must ensure all individuals, especially children, can access to nutritious meals that support healthy development. That includes strengthening SNAP and other essential programs. Whether it’s the holidays or the summer, no one should go hungry in America.