Are you struggling to pay your bills and finding yourself with less money to buy food? Do you find that you don’t consistently have enough food for yourself and your family? Do you have difficulty eating healthy, balanced meals due to a lack of money? If you said “yes” to one or all of these questions, you might have what is called “food insecurity.” Read on to learn more about this and what you can do about it.
What is food insecurity?
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website states that, “Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
Being food insecure is not the same as being hungry, however. Hunger refers to physical symptoms, such as a growling stomach or feeling lightheaded as a result of not eating. Food insecurity stems from not having the financial resources to purchase food.
“Millions of Americans experience food insecurity every year — meaning, they lack access to adequate, nutritious food,” says the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Food insecurity has only increased, thanks to COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. food supply chain.
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Who is affected by food insecurity?
Food insecurity can be long term or temporary, and may be impacted by income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability. Low-income households and unemployment can also affect the ability to afford food. Vulnerable populations include children, seniors, African Americans, Latinos, and people living in rural communities. College students are another population that is impacted by food security issues. The cost of tuition and college meal plans has increased, and many college students care for a child and are single parents, as well, according to the website feedingamerica.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has “led to severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity,” according to the website worldbank.org. The impacts are expected to continue through 2022.
Are you food insecure?
The Children’s HealthWatch has developed the Hunger Vital Sign two-question screening tool to assess food insecurity in clinical settings. Many health care systems have adopted the use of this tool. The questions are:
- Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we had money to buy more.
- Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.
If the response to either statement is often or sometimes true, a person is said to be food insecure.
What can you do about food insecurity?
If you are having difficulty affording food for yourself and/or your family, help is available. Here are resources to get you started:
This program provides nutrition benefits to needy families to enable them to purchase healthy food. You will need to apply through your state’s website. Note that there are income thresholds in order to qualify. If you’re eligible for SNAP, you will receive a notice as to how long you can receive benefits, and you may need to reapply to continue receiving SNAP benefits.
This program provides supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. Visit the USDA website to learn more and to find out if you’re eligible.
Feeding America, which is the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., can help you locate a food pantry or food bank in or near your community. Visit the Feeding America website to find food and grocery help. Another food pantry locator is the website foodpantries.org.
USDA National Hunger Hotline
Call the National Hunger hotline between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (en español) to speak with someone who can help you with food assistance and other social services. You can also text to 914-342-7744 with a question that includes the words “food” or “meals.”
Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
This program provides low-income seniors with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey, and herbs. To learn more, visit the USDA website.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program
This program supplements the diets of low-income people who are at least 60 years of age. To learn more, visit the USDA website.
Want more strategies for affording food? Read “COVID-19 Pandemic: Six Ways to Save Money on Groceries.”