The following post was written with the support of Feeding America staff. Feeding America is one of the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charities. Their mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.
Across America, communities continue to experience the impact of high unemployment, underemployment, reduced wages, and high poverty rates, but some communities and populations are disproportionately affected. Map the Meal Gap 2014, an annual report from Feeding America released this week reveals that no community is free of hunger, and that children living in rural communities are disproportionately impacted. Fifty-nine percent of communities that face high rates of child food insecurity are rural. In these highly food insecure counties, more than 1 in 3 children qualify as food insecure.
Residents of rural communities often face multiple challenges to gaining an adequate, nutritious diet; including high food costs, transportation hurdles, and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Food insecure children are less likely to have access to afterschool and summer feeding sites that protect them from hunger when school is out. Their parents may have to travel great distances to get to a SNAP office.
In addition to providing local-level food insecurity estimates, Map the Meal Gap 2014 estimates the share of food insecure individuals who are likely income-eligible for federal anti-hunger programs like SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs. In 94 percent of counties, the majority of food insecure households with children are income-eligible for federal nutrition programs. This finding underscores the importance of programs such as free and reduced-price lunch and WIC that are targeted at households with children. It also emphasizes the importance of increasing access to federal nutrition programs, especially when we know children experience nutritional gaps over the weekends, holidays, or summer. For example, USDA data show that far fewer children participate in breakfast (11.2 million) and summer food assistance programs (2.4 million) than those who receive free or reduced-price lunch (21 million). We can also take steps to support charitable feeding programs that help fill in the gaps for children who lack access to federal nutrition programs; or for children whose families struggle to put food on the table but make slightly too much income to qualify for federal assistance.
Particularly within rural communities, improved program access and innovative delivery models can help to improve participation rates. For example, there are only about 42 summer food sites for every 100 lunch programs nationwide. In addition to increasing the number of summer feeding sites, policy makers should support alternative summer delivery models, such as delivering meals to low-income neighborhoods rather than requiring families to find transportation to a summer site; or allowing families to pick up a week’s worth of meals to eat at home rather than requiring children to travel to the site each day.
Other findings on child hunger from Map the Meal Gap 2014 include:
- Among the top 10% of counties with the highest child food insecurity rates, more than 1 in 3 children struggle with food insecurity.
- The South contains nearly 90 percent of high food insecurity rate counties.
- Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity.
Both food insecurity and eligibility rates vary from county to county. By providing data about hunger at the state, congressional district, and county level, Map the Meal Gap can help policymakers, service providers, and advocates identify strategies to best reach the families and children in need of food assistance. We encourage you to explore the full findings of the report as well as an interactive map and downloadable state fact sheets are available online at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.