Reprinted from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap 2017 Report, page 4.
The findings from Map the Meal Gap 2017 shed light on the fact that there are people struggling with hunger in every county and congressional district in the United States.
Although fewer people nationwide are food insecure, the growing food budget shortfall suggests that people in need may be falling further behind. The study also shows that not all food-insecure people qualify for federal nutrition assistance. The charitable sector has stepped in to serve millions of individuals, as well as families who participate in federal programs but whose benefits are inadequate. There are several key areas where these programs and the states that administer them can more effectively address food insecurity.
Improving participation rates among individuals eligible for federal programs like SNAP could help to further reduce food insecurity. Policymakers and administrators could expand the current reach of these programs, especially in rural and remote communities, by improving program access, streamlining requirements for providers and applications for individuals, and supporting innovative delivery models. Summer food programs in particular could benefit from alternative 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.
State governments can do more to ensure vulnerable populations have access to SNAP. Restrictive time limits on those willing to work but unable to find sufficient employment can prevent people in need from receiving SNAP benefits. States should provide able-bodied adults access to training, job placement and volunteer programs, so that they can avoid onerous time limits on the length of time they are allowed to receive SNAP. This will help states ensure that their programs are effectively reaching people in need.
Outside of the support provided through federal programs, Feeding America food banks across the country are also critical sources of food assistance for struggling families. Reducing barriers to donations can help provide excess food to families in need instead of letting it go to waste.
The Map the Meal Gap studies are intended to shed light on the issue of food insecurity as a problem facing communities across the country and our society as a whole. Ensuring that food-insecure people have access to adequate and nutritious food may help reduce their risk of developing associated physical and mental health issues, and also improve the strength of the broader community. When people are provided with the social support they need to thrive, everyone benefits. 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.