It’s time to once again cover Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap report. Feeding American, of course, is a network of over 200 food banks. They help their partners distribute 3 billion pounds of food every year.
Their annual Map the Meal Gap report examines local food insecurity trends and this year’s report reflects data from 2012. This report helps local food programs measure food insecurity within their communities, providing information on the local level and including data on every county in the U.S.
Their estimates show the food insecurity rate in the U.S. is 15.9%, down from 16.4% in last year’s report. This means 48,966,000 Americans lack the resources to consistently afford enough nutritious food to live active, healthy lives.
The report also highlights children’s hunger by measuring the child food insecurity rate, which is currently at 21.6%. The 2012 child food insecurity rate is also lower than in 2013, which was 22.4%, but still includes 15,898,999 children living with food insecurity.
For Oklahoma, Map the Meal Gap estimates food insecurity rates have remained virtually the same since last year’s report, coming in at 17.2% of the state population. This means approximately 653,300 individuals struggle with food insecurity in the Sooner State, according to the 2012 data. (For specific information on every county in Oklahoma, click here.)
When we turn special attention to the rate of childhood hunger, the numbers are even less encouraging. Oklahoma’s rate of childhood food insecurity rose to 25.6%, up from 25.3% in last year’s report. Last year, I wrote that Oklahoma’s children can’t wait as we slowly chip away at hunger by decreasing childhood food insecurity by 1 or 2% a year. Now it seems that recent progress has not just slowed, but the indicators are shifting in the wrong direction when it comes to fighting child hunger.
Map the Meal Gap details the government safety net programs available for hungry families. Whether or not a family qualifies for assistance depends largely on where household income falls in relation to federal poverty guidelines.
Only families falling below 130% of the poverty rate can qualify for SNAP and Free School Lunches. Families making below 185% of poverty might have individual household members who qualify for WIC, such as a child up to age 5. For anyone deemed to have an income above 185% of the poverty guideline, the only option is to go without or seek charitable help through a local food pantry.
The Feeding American graphic, shown above, breaks down the Income Bands for the 656,300 Oklahoman’s facing food insecurity. The good news is that compared to 2011 figures, more Oklahomans qualified for government food assistance in 2012. In terms of real numbers the percentages represent:
- 347,839 Oklahomans who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, free school meals and other government assistance.
- 105,008 Oklahomans who may qualify for reduced school lunches or WIC, but probably not SNAP or free school lunches.
- 203,453 Oklahomans who do NOT qualify for the majority of federal nutrition programs yet still have insufficient means to meet all their nutritional needs.
In Tulsa County specifically, the report estimates 16.9% of the population, or around 101,855 people, can be defined as food insecure. This is the same percentage as last year’s report. Among this population:
- 49%, or 49,909, are below the threshold of 130% poverty required to qualify for SNAP benefits.
- 17%, or 7,315, are between 130-185% poverty and likely eligible for reduced school lunches but ineligible for SNAP.
- 35%, or 35,649, are above the 185% poverty threshold and therefore unable to qualify for most federal nutrition programs.
For the population above 185% of the poverty line, which includes more than 200,000 Oklahomans, charitable organizations are the mainline of defense against hunger. Food banks are the distribution hubs that help supply these crucial local food programs. More and more, food banks need to purchase food to meet the growing need. So having the relevant information about local hunger statistics, provided by Map the Meal Gap, is important for planning, fundraising and elevating public awareness.
This summer, Feeding America will also be publishing the next study in their quadrennial Hunger in America series. Hunger Report 2014 will provide “statistically-valid data” on Feeding America’s food distribution network. More than 34,000 agencies across America have provided information about their services and programs, and over 12,500 sites were visited so client surveys could be conducted.
For the first time, the Hunger Report will include questions about a client’s health, veteran status and additional coping strategies families are using to fight hunger. Feeding America believes the information in this study will not only help charitable programs better serve clients, but can also provide data to inform public policy debates on a national level.
- Until Feeding America’s 2014 study is released later this summer, you can check out the last report, Hunger Study 2010.
- For more information about safety net programs, check out the Urban Institute’s Safety Net Almanac.
- Readers can also visit the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma’s website to learn more about our local food bank’s efforts to fight hunger. Be sure to check out their online gallery, Picture Hunger: Lives of Worth.