The United States is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet today. Despite this, the company Feeding America reported that, in 2019, there were more than 35 million people— nearly 11 million children— who suffered from food insecurity. This problem mutated into a national emergency during the heights of the pandemic, with estimates as high as 45 million people, 15 million children, might have experienced during 2020. Ironically, in 2019, the food insecurity levels were at their lowest rate in twenty years. None of these statistics are comforting, for none are without a face and a name.

Defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity refers to a lack of consistent availability of access to, not just having enough food, but those of a healthy quality. These situations can be of a temporary or extended nature, for individuals, households, or communities. There are significant disparities racially and ethnically.

An article prepared by Feeding America in march of 2021 communicated that 1 in 12 Caucasian persons (8.1%),  1 in 6 Latino’s (or 15.8%), 1 in 5 Black (19.3%) and 1 in 4 (23.5%) Native American persons are predicted to suffer from food insecurity.  While there are strong correlations between systemic racism, poverty, and food insecurity, there is still a need for more research to highlight the mess that contributes to these issues.

The causes of food insecurity are many and complex, often paired with deep rooted socio-economic challenges. This problem regarding the need for enough food is just one component that accompanies the inability for people to meet their basic needs. Common instigations occur as a result of unemployment, unexpected layoffs, or sudden bills like that of car maintenance and medical nature.

The high costs of these basic needs can force families into the terribly awkward and uncomfortable position of needing to choose between buying food or just paying bills. Many of these basic needs’ issues are compounded by the lack of affordable housing, sudden and/or chronic health concerns, generational unemployment, or social injustices.

Without the efforts and actions of social workers in local and federal government— as well as tens of thousands of Samaritans in the private sectors of companies, individuals, and communities— many more people would suffer from this issue. The partnerships and actions taken during the pandemic did much to abate and lessen the blows to our economy and the individuals who make up this great country.

What was learned and accomplished during that unique period of time in world history has demonstrated clearly that there are solutions which can affect long standing change in the gradual lessening of these shocking statistics. In order for that abatement to continue, people in the public and private sectors need to continue to act and innovate. Here are some ways that public health leadership, individuals, and social workers are fighting against food insecurity in America.

Actions for Change

More Affordability

The USDA has estimates that there is a range of how much money American families spend on food annually ranging from 10-20% depending on income. The rise in import/exports, production, and shipping costs have seen a sudden and frustrating rise in food prices in the wake of the pandemic. Local and global policies need to be explored in order to cap and reverse the trends of costs affecting budgets. The identification of root causes to the system-wide rise in living costs not only needs to be identified but rectified.

For this nation to continue as it is, would cause staggering effects, setting record new rates of suffering. While most everyone has felt inflation’s effects, it is those people who are already affected or at risk of falling into the categories of poverty and food insecurity who need these changes sooner rather than later.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), overseen by the USDA, is the single largest program to promote nutrition in the United States. SNAP works to reduce the presence of food insecurity by several means, one of which is called the emergency allotment rule which allows states to provide participants with benefits like online food purchasing programs. Aimed at assisting those persons who have limited availability to transportation because of physical ailments or lack of funds, these SNAP participants can use funds to have food delivered to them.

There are also plenty of people who, because of health needs, like those on Medicaid and Medicare, have connected enrollment with SNAP. The need for higher enrollment rates for those individuals that are already a part of the Medicare and Medicaid is one that should be noted by leaders.

Prescriptions and Subsides

Healthcare providers are at the front line of many of the issues which can be seen as a result of food insecurity. As such, they are uniquely inclined to understand the needs of their patients. The added ability for medical practitioners to write prescriptions or hand out vouchers for at-risk persons would do much, not just to see that families are being fed, but that the local economies businesses are being recirculated into.

The allotment of produce prescriptions from health providers will not only gradually improve the health of those persons ingesting well prescribed foods, but can gradually educate the uninformed, and impoverished demographics. A community which learns and acts in conjunction with each other through consistent behavior can reshape the habits of entire neighborhoods.

Despite the reality that poverty, racism, mental health, and economic struggles all contribute to the historic fluctuations of food insecurity rates, the admirable actions of individuals, communities and organizations have not gone unnoticed. With continued partnerships in the public and private sectors, food insecurity may become a thing of this past.

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