Food insecurity remains critical issue for many households with children

15 Oct
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California was among 22 states that saw food insecurity decline significantly from 2013–15 to 2016–18, but a highly concerning 10.6 percent of the state’s households were still categorized as food insecure in 2018, according to a new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Food insecurity was also found to be significantly more common than the national average of 11.1 percent for households with children, particularly those headed by single men or women. Among U.S. households with children under age 18, 13.9 percent were food insecure at some point during 2018. Among single-mother households with children, that rate climbs to 27.8 percent. And among single-father households with children, 15.9 percent were food insecure.

The survey results come at a time when the federal government has proposed rule changes to eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. During the 2018–19 school year, 2.5 million California students were directly certified to receive free school meals based on their family’s SNAP eligibility. The CSBA-ACSA Federal Partnership on Sept. 11 filed comments opposing the changes, finding that they would impact many California students and their families and “institute new, unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on nearly every school district in our state.”

The partnership’s letter continues, “Focusing the program’s categorical eligibility system on a narrower population will harm highly food insecure students, students with families constantly struggling on the cusp of severe poverty, and even food secure students trying to learn in classrooms with students whose basic needs are not being met.”

The USDA survey found that, in 2018, children were food insecure in 7.1 percent of U.S. households in which they reside (roughly 2.7 million households). Households with very low food security among children reported that these youths were “hungry, skipped a meal or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food.” The federal government identifies very low food security households as ones “in which the food intake of one or more members was reduced and eating patterns disrupted because of insufficient money and other resources for food.”

SNAP aided 41.2 percent of food-insecure households in 2018, survey results show.

Also of importance to public schools is that, nationally, 28 percent of food-insecure households said that, in the previous 30 days, they participated in the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. That percentage dropped slightly to 22.5 percent for households with very low food security. Further, 39.5 percent of households that received free or reduce-price school lunches were classified as food insecure.

In fiscal year 2018, the National School Lunch Program provided lunches to an average of 29.7 million children each school day. California Food Policy Advocates, however, determined in 2017 that about 970,000 of the state’s eligible public school students miss out on free or reduced-price lunches. Recognizing that many households rely on schools for food, some districts have also taken the step of feeding their students during the summer, when school is not in session.

To help district leaders and board members engage in important policy and program discussions about nutrition and other wellness issues, CSBA offers a resource page on the conditions of children. Topics in the student physical health and wellness section include physical activity/education, nutrition, school-based health services and student wellness policy.

Additional notable survey findings:

  • In 2018, 14.3 million households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of financial or other resources.
  • The 2018 prevalence of food insecurity declined nationally, for the first time, to the pre-recession (2007) level of 11.1 percent.
  • Certain groups continue to face higher-than-average food insecurity rates, including 21.2 percent of black households and 16.2 percent of Hispanic households.

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