Saturday, May 13, 2017

Feeding America Releases 2017 Map the Meal Gap Report

Despite their current reach, federal nutrition programs could do more to address food insecurity by improving the number of eligible individuals who participate. For example, compared to nearly 22 million children who receive free or reduced-price lunches each school day in 2015, only 12 million received breakfast during the school year and even fewer children (less than 4 million) received food assistance during the summer (USDA, 2016). 
The national anti-hunger organization Feeding America recently released its 2017 Map the Meal Gap report, which contains data for the year 2015. The Map the Meal Gap studies are intended to shed light on the issue of food insecurity as a problem that exists in all communities across the US. "As evidenced throughout the report, the dimensions of food insecurity vary based on income, poverty, unemployment and homeownership across different regions, population densities and local economies," said Feeding America. "We encourage others to examine how local-level food-insecurity data relates to other indicators, such as health data, housing cost pressures and other measures of economic status. It is our hope that food banks, partner agencies, policymakers, business leaders, community activists and concerned citizens will use this data in their efforts towards ending hunger in America."

New Mexico: A Silver Lining
If you're looking for a silver lining for New Mexico, the latest data showed the percentage of hungry children in New Mexico had declined to 25% in 2015 from 27.2% in 2014. In terms of percentages, however, New Mexico remained at near the top in the rate of child hunger, tied for second with Arkansas at 25%. Only Mississippi had a higher rate of child hunger at 26.3%.  Regardless of what improvements occurred between 2014 and 2015, the reality is that one in four children in New Mexico live in food-insecure households.

The reports, which were first published in 2011, indicate that New Mexico has consistently ranked near the top in terms of child hunger.  Here are the links to the  Child Food Insecurity Reports for 2011 (2009 data) and 2012 (2010) data. Starting with 2013 (2011 data), the report measured food insecurity both among children and the entire population of a state. Here are the links to 2014 (for 2012) and 2015 (for 2013). The 2013 report, which measured the rate of child hunger in New Mexico at 30% (first in the nation) is what prompted a group of representatives of faith communities to create the Interfaith Hunger Coalition.

The 2017 report also showed a decline in the overall rate of food insecurity in New Mexico.  Overall, the report indicated that 16% of New Mexicans were food insecure in 2015, compared with 17.2% in 2014. The percentages are highly variable by county, ranging from 8.4% in Guadalupe County to 27.2% in McKinley County.

Some Important Points in the Report
  • Percentages Tell Only a Part of the Story: As helpful as food-insecurity rates are when measuring the prevalence of need, the absolute number of individuals in need is just as important. In fact, populous counties with low rates of food insecurity are home to some of the largest numbers of food- insecure people. For example, Los Angeles County, California has a relatively low rate of food insecurity of 12%, but is home to an estimated 1.2 million food- insecure individuals, including more than 480,000 food-insecure children.
  • Lower Numbers, Greater Need: Although the total number of people living in food- insecure households has decreased, individual need among people who are food insecure has increased. Despite the economic recovery and reductions in unemployment and poverty, millions of people still struggle to get by because of persistent economic challenges, such as underemployment and stagnant wages. In addition, rising costs for essentials, especially rent and housing expenses, continue to put real cost pressure on low-income families, many of whom already report having to make regular spending tradeoffs to help ensure they have sufficient food
  • The Importance of Federal Programs: While charitable assistance plays a critical role in helping families meet their food needs, federal nutrition programs are the first line of defense against hunger. WIC supports pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women and their infants and children up to age 5. In federal fiscal year 2016, more than 7 million women, infants and children participated in WIC (USDA, FNS, 2017). The NSLP, SBP and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provide meals to low-income children in school and during school breaks. Over 100,000 schools operate NSLP and during federal fiscal year 2016, 22 million children received free or reduced-price lunch through NSLP (USDA FNS, 2017). SNAP provides electronic benefit cards to households to purchase groceries, and although it is not limited to children, 44% of all SNAP participants in federal fiscal year 2015 were children (approximately 20 million children) (Gray et al., 2016).

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