One in seven Texas households lacked reliable access to food

A USDA report showed 14 percent of Texas households experienced food insecurity in 2015-17, higher than the national rate of 12 percent during the same time period. (Photo / Ken Camp)

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One in seven Texas households had limited or uncertain access to food in recent years, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed.

The report showed 14 percent of Texas households experienced food insecurity in 2015-17, higher than the national rate of 12 percent during the same time period. The study showed significant improvement since 2012-14, when 17.2 percent of Texas households were food-insecure.

However, Feeding Texas—formerly the Texas Food Bank Network—noted Texas still had 1.4 million food-insecure households, more than any other state except California.

“Despite claims to the contrary, hunger is still a major issue facing too many Texans,” said Celia Cole, chief executive officer of Feeding Texas.

Prevalence of severe food insecurity reported

In food-insecure households, which lack consistent access to enough food for everyone to enjoy a healthy diet, families frequently cut back on groceries to pay for lodging, utilities or medicine. Nationally, the typical food-secure household spent 23 percent more on food in 2017 than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition, the report noted.

In addition to tracking general food insecurity—which means at some point, a household lacked access to food to provide healthy nutrition for all its members—the USDA also registered the rate of more severe “very low” food security.

Nationally, 4.8 percent of households reported “very low” food security in 2015-17; in Texas, 5.8 percent of households fell in that category during those years. That showed marked improvement over the 6.2 percent of Texas households that experienced “very low” food security in 2012-14, but it was higher than the 5 percent average in 2005-07, prior to the period economists identified as the Great Recession.

“We are encouraged that the food insecurity rate in Texas continues to decline. Over that last several years, organizations and leaders across the state have collaborated to address food insecurity, and we’ve made important strides,” said Kathy Krey, research director of the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University.

“Still, we have not reached pre-recession levels, and close to 2 million Texas households are food insecure, and that number is far too high. We need to continue to work together to build a system wherein individuals and families can access the food they need.”

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‘Lots and lots of work to do’

Signs of improvement give Texans reason to celebrate progress in fighting hunger, but the significant number of households that continue to experience food insecurity point to a need for continuing effort, said Ferrell Foster, director of ethics and justice with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

“Those of us who hurt for the malnourished in Texas see in these numbers that we still have lots and lots of work to do,” Foster said. “We are doing better, but there are still more than a million Texans who are uncertain about being able to eat healthy meals. They suffer today, and their malnutrition will have long-term consequences for them, their families and their communities.”

The USDA reported 10 states with a food insecurity rate higher than Texas—New Mexico, 17.9 percent; Arizona, 17.4 percent; Louisiana, 17.3 percent; Mississippi, 17.2 percent; Alabama, 16.3 percent; Oklahoma, 15 percent; West Virginia, 14.9 percent; Kentucky, 14.7 percent; and both Maine and North Carolina, 14.4 percent.

At 7.4 percent, Hawaii had the lowest food insecurity rate in the nation, followed by New Jersey at 8.6 percent and Colorado at 9.2 percent.

In addition to Texas, 11 other states had a higher prevalence of “very low” food security than the national average—Alabama and Louisiana, 7.1 percent; Mississippi and New Mexico, 6.6 percent; Arkansas, 6.5 percent; Maine and Oklahoma, 6.4 percent; West Virginia, 6.2 percent; Ohio, 6.1 percent; and Tennessee, 5.7 percent.

Congress debates future of federal nutrition programs

The USDA released its report at a point when members of Congress were debating the future of federal nutrition programs such as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.

President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a report in July declaring the War on Poverty is “largely over and a success,” and the council recommended more stringent requirements for nondisabled adults who receive assistance.

The USDA reported about 58 percent of food-insecure households participate in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs—SNAP; WIC, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; or the federal school lunch program.

“Our elected leaders should reject any proposal to cut programs like SNAP that help so many Texans make ends meet,” Cole said. “Taking food away from these families by cutting SNAP, or reducing resources for food banks to meet the need of their communities, will only increase food insecurity. … The best way to help our neighbors is not to take food off the table, but put more opportunities on it.”

Any effort to make households more food secure demands the cooperation of multiple institutions, Foster noted.

“Put simply, people need food for today and jobs for their tomorrows. And those who cannot work need our ongoing help,” he said. “Churches, schools and governments must work together to address these issues, and that is being done in more and more places in Texas. We are all in this together.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 8th and 9th paragraphs were added Sept. 7, after this article initially was posted Sept. 6.


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