How to Find Food Security Support and Hunger Assistance Resources

BySara East
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 13, 2024

BySara East
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 13, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Nearly one in eight U.S. households struggled with food insecurity throughout 2022, significantly higher than the previous year. Many families had difficulties obtaining enough food to meet their needs due to insufficient funds and a lack of other resources for food.

For these people and others who may find themselves in a food insecurity situation in the future, hunger assistance programs and resources are available. Gaining knowledge about food insecurity, understanding who is affected and identifying available support can help you and your family navigate these challenges and support others in your community.

Food Insecurity in the US

 

Food insecurity has increased significantly. More families face challenges getting access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle for themselves and their families.

demographics_old.png
Fast fact icon

In 2022, 17 million people were food insecure at some point.

Fast fact icon

The food insecurity rate in 2022 rose from 10.2 percent, or 13.5 million households, in 2021.

Fast fact icon

Around 1% of households with children (381,000 households) faced severe food shortages in 2022, a noticeable rise from 0.7% (274,000 homes) the previous year.


What Is Food Insecurity?

People standing looking at map.

Food insecurity occurs when an individual or family lacks access to nutritional food necessary to maintain health and well-being due to financial insecurity. Conversely, food security occurs when people have access to various nutritional foods required to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture assesses food insecurity with an annual food security survey, part of the Current Population Survey (CPS). Conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPS is a national survey that also supplies monthly unemployment, as well as annual income and poverty statistics. Each December, following the labor force interview, approximately 40,000 households answer questions on food security.

What Defines Food Insecurity?

The USDA defines ranges of food security and insecurity to better gauge the hunger status in the U.S. For food insecurity, this range is broken down into three levels.

    fryingPan icon

    Food insecure

    A household that is food insecure faces uncertainty at times during the year when it comes to having or acquiring enough food to meet the entire family's needs. This can include households with low food security or very low food security. In 2022, approximately 13% of U.S. households were food insecure at some time.

    grocery icon

    Low food security

    A household with low food security avoided food insecurity and disruption to their eating habits and patterns through different strategies such as reducing food intake, eating a more varied diet or participating in federal food assistance programs or community food pantries.

    dish icon

    Very low food security

    This is where one or more household members' eating habits were affected and reduced during the year due to financial instability. In 2022, 5.1% of U.S. households had very low food insecurity at some point during the year.

4 Pillars of Food Security: Availability, Access, Utilization, Stability

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security through four pillars which can deepen understanding of hunger conditions in the U.S.:

1
Availability

How “available” is food regarding supply, production, stock levels and even net trade? Things like disease, pests, extreme weather and improper storage can all affect food availability.

2
Access

How accessible is food in relation to proximity to people’s homes, and how affordable is it for purchase? Everyone deserves access to an adequate supply of food.

3
Utilization

How nutritious is the food that individuals have access to? Food should supply sufficient energy and nutrition, resulting from good feeding practices, food preparation and diet diversity.

4
Stability

How stable is someone’s access to food? Adequate access to food should be consistent every single day without interruption.

Who Is Most Susceptible to Food Insecurity?

People standing either side of a loaf of bread.

Certain demographics are at higher risk of food insecurity than others. Households living below the poverty line and single-mother households are the most at-risk, but they're not the only ones.

WHO IS MOST AT RISK OF FOOD INSECURITY?

When determining who is most at risk of food insecurity, the USDA looks for groups with a higher than the national 13% rate. The following groups experienced the highest percentages of food insecurity in 2022:

  • 17.3 % of all households with children
  • 16.7% of households with children under the age of 6
  • 33.1% of households with children headed by a single woman
  • 21.2% of households with children headed by a single man
  • 15.1% of women living alone
  • 22.4% of Black, non-Hispanic households
  • 20.6% of Hispanic households
  • 36.7% of households with incomes below 100% of the poverty threshold
  • 35.2% of households with incomes below 130% of the poverty threshold
  • 32% of households with incomes below 185% of the poverty threshold

Demographics

Single mothers, children, older adults and those living in rural communities are the most at risk of food insecurity. Older adults are often forced to choose between food and medical care or other important bills. Children who live in poverty not only struggle to get access to food but are often provided non-nutritious food because it is more affordable. For those living in rural communities, finding adequate transportation to the grocery store can be a major factor in food security. Other communities commonly threatened include Black and Latino communities.

Income Levels

The poverty line is $29,678 in 2022 for a family of four in the U.S. For instance, 36.7% of households earning less than the poverty line experienced food insecurity, while only 6.8% of households earning more than 185% of the poverty line faced similar issues. Also, households with children headed by single parents and Black and Hispanic households are at greater risk of facing food shortages.

Geography and Food Deserts

Food insecurity rates across the United States vary widely, influenced by household income, employment status and family structure, alongside state-level factors such as average wages, housing costs, unemployment rates and specific state policies on social assistance programs. From 2020 to 2022, states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas experienced higher food insecurity rates than the national average.

Residents living in food deserts are also more likely to be food insecure. Food deserts are areas where residents have limited access to healthy food sources. To identify these food deserts, the USDA evaluates factors, including the proximity to stores offering healthy food options, individual circumstances like income or access to transportation and the overall income level of the area.

money2 icon
WHAT ARE THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF FOOD INSECURITY IN THE COMMUNITY?

Americans not having access to nutritional food is a costly battle the country has been fighting for many years. The shortages that individuals, especially children, are experiencing today will greatly impact the future. Nationally, child hunger costs the U.S. economy $28 billion a year because children who are not properly nourished do not perform well in school and require long-term health care spending.

Outside of child hunger, food insecurity, in general, leads to increased mortality, disease and disability, which directly inflates health care costs to cope with this shift in personal health and abilities.

Financial Literacy and Food Insecurity

Income tends to be negatively correlated with food security. If a household has a low or inconsistent income, it's a major barrier to purchasing food. However, access to food is not only a problem among people with lower incomes, which leads some to believe that there may be a correlation between financial literacy and food insecurity as well.

Financial literacy, which is determined by someone's knowledge of basic financial concepts, can be linked to food insecurity in many ways. Those with higher financial literacy are more likely to budget and save money, have higher retirement savings and generally have less difficulty making financial decisions. In turn, households with higher financial literacy are less likely to find themselves in a financial situation where they cannot afford food. However, this does not directly correlate with financial literacy in every case of food insecurity; but it shows how income alone does not explain the problem. A household can make a relatively good income but not have the knowledge or skills to budget and still faces hunger challenges.

Getting Help: Hunger Assistance

People standing either side of a pot.

With the fact that more factors than income can lead to food insecurity, many individuals are at risk of facing hunger issues at any time. Knowing where and how to get help is the first step in fighting hunger.

Local Resources

Most communities have a variety of programs and services available locally that individuals can contact for assistance. Even if the assistance is through a federal program, local churches, charities and organizations implement these services throughout communities. An easy place to start is by using the "near me" map feature on Google. Many national organizations will also offer a local search on their website, like the find your local food bank search by Feeding America. You can also dial 211 to get assistance on finding local programs.

Federal and Government Programs

No matter why a family struggles with food insecurity, the following federal and government-funded programs can help families have consistent food access. Additional assistance may be available locally within your community.

1
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

WIC is geared towards helping pregnant and postpartum women with lower incomes and infants and children of women with lower incomes with various health-related resources. WIC provides vouchers for groceries, education, breastfeeding support and referrals for additional services through grants given to states. To qualify for WIC, you must meet one of the categories mentioned above, be a resident of the state where you're applying, meet income limits and be nutritionally at risk. You can apply for a WIC program through your state or local WIC agency.

2
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP is more commonly known as food stamps and stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It provides families with an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, similar to an ATM card, to purchase food. Benefits are automatically loaded onto the card each month and administered by the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. Most households must be no more than 130% above the poverty limit to qualify for SNAP benefits. You can apply for SNAP through your local office.

3
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and is available for low and very low income families. TANF provides cash for families to meet basic needs. To be eligible, an individual must have a child that is 18 years old or younger, be pregnant or be 18 years or younger and the head of household. You can apply for TANF through your local state agency.

4
Others

While WIC, SNAP and TANF represent the largest federal assistance programs offering financial and nutritional support to individuals and families, many also benefit from community and local initiatives. These include BackPack programs, typically community-based initiatives supported by schools or nonprofit organizations. Other forms of assistance include Meals on Wheels, local food banks and pantries, supported by a mix of government grants, donations and community support.

What Is Being Done to Address Food Insecurity?

People sitting at table.

Even though food insecurity is an ongoing issue, many efforts are being made to help fight this problem. From federal assistance programs to reduce food waste, and interventions to identify those at risk, there are ways that we can all contribute to the food insecurity issues we’re facing in the United States.

Food Insecurity Policy

Currently, the policies being implemented to help with food security are mostly federal assistance programs. The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service's 15 nutrition assistance programs directly address food insecurity. According to a spokesperson for the USDA, although Congress previously provided much-needed relief for Americans, President Biden recognized that the millions of Americans currently facing food insecurity needed more help. The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, included over $12 billion to address the hunger crisis in America.

Furthermore, a National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health has been developed to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030. This strategy outlines key areas of focus, including improving food access and affordability, integrating nutrition and health initiatives, empowering consumers with healthy choices, supporting physical activity and advancing research in nutrition and food security.

How Can We Stop Food Insecurity?

Nancy Roman, the president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, explains that she believes there's a two-step process to stopping food insecurity.

1
Step 1

The first step is for those who provide access to foods to ensure that they provide it for an amount of time, which helps result in long-term change. Sticking with these changes for at least 12 weeks helps a family maintain healthier eating habits. This period helps them not just eat more nutritious food but also change their eating habits for the better, like choosing healthier options more often and understanding more about nutrition.

2
Step 2

The second step is to engage entrepreneurs and businesses in solving the food insecurity problem by creative solutions using technological advancements and ways to deliver food. "I believe people should be able to sell healthy foods for a profit in underserved neighborhoods," explained Roman. "There's a pent-up demand for good food. Sometimes you hear people say that those in disadvantaged communities don't want to buy good food, but that is not my experience. We have to make more food widely available and bring it back to neighborhoods that have been shut out. That's how you really start making steps towards stopping food insecurity."

How Can We Improve Food Security?

Continuing to create new ways to and enhancing existing access to food is key to improving food security. We can also work collectively to help remove barriers to make it easier for those who do not have access to healthy foods to receive good food.

  • If you know a family in your neighborhood does not have reliable access to transportation, you can offer to take them to the grocery store when you go.
  • You can deliver food to senior centers or volunteer to drive older adults to grocery stores.
  • If you have children in school, you can learn about the food assistance programs and advocate to enhance them.

A lot of good work has been done to fight food insecurity up to this point. Businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals can look at what's been done and build upon that to increase the availability of resources in their communities.

Expert Insight on Hunger Assistance Resources

To learn more about food insecurity issues in our country, MoneyGeek spoke with several industry leaders and academics. They provided insights into the range of household food programs and discussed alternatives for those who may not qualify for federal assistance.

To learn more about food insecurity issues in our country, MoneyGeek spoke with several industry leaders and academics. They provided insights into the range of household food programs and discussed alternatives for those who may not qualify for federal assistance.

  1. We know that COVID-19 has greatly impacted food insecurity. What efforts are being made, local or nationally, to help families?
  2. Where can those who don’t qualify for federal assistance go for help?
Cindy Fitch, Ph.D.
Cindy Fitch, Ph.D.Associate Dean for Research at West Virginia University Extension Service
Diana Cuy Castellanos
Diana Cuy CastellanosAssistant Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, University of Dayton
Mark Bittman
Mark BittmanCookbook Author and Former Food Journalist and Columnist
Suzanna Martinez
Suzanna MartinezAssistant Professor, University of California, San Francisco in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Roxanne Moore
Roxanne MooreExecutive Director, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation
Nancy E. Roman
Nancy E. RomanPresident and CEO, Partnership for a Healthier America

Resources for Financial Support and Food Security

Whether you’re facing food insecurity or simply want to know how you can better educate yourself and help those in your community, the following resources are of value.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics: A report on how to better promote food insecurity for children.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program: A supplemental diet program geared at persons aged 60 years or older provides low-income people with nutritious USDA foods.
  • Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit: This is a toolkit that provides standardized measurement tools for determining and assessing aspects of food insecurity in communities.
  • Feeding America: A hunger-relief organization that partners with more than 200 food banks and food rescue programs.
  • Foodbank Locator: A searchable database of food banks located across the U.S.
  • Healthy People: Data-driven objectives for the general public designed to improve health and well-being over the next decade.
  • Meals on Wheels: A community-based senior nutrition program that helps provide meals through delivery to older adults.
  • National Association of State Departments of Agriculture: A nonprofit association that represents elected commissioners, secretaries and directors of the Department of Agriculture throughout all 50 states in the U.S. Their goal is to cultivate and enhance American agriculture through partnerships, public engagement and policy.
  • National Endowment for Financial Education: This is an independent organization working to improve the effectiveness of financial education. Provided education is free to access through the website.
  • National School Lunch Program: A federally assisted meal program that provides healthy, balanced and low-cost meals to private and public schools.
  • No Kid Hungry: This is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending child hunger that partners with companies, restaurants, charitable foundations and ordinary Americans to help feed children.
  • School Breakfast Program: Allows states to provide nonprofit breakfast programs in schools through a federally funded reimbursement program.
  • Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Program: Provides older adults with lower incomes with access to healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs through partnerships with farmers' markets.
  • Summer Food Service Program: A state-funded program where children under 18 years of age can receive free meals and snacks.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: An extensive list of various food assistance programs.
  • Why Hunger: A database of emergency food providers and community-based organizations helping to end food insecurity.

About Sara East


Sara East headshot

Sara East is a freelance writer and content marketing professional based in Reno, NV. She has more than 10 years of marketing experience in public relations, content and digital marketing. Sara has been a published writer for more than 10 years, having written articles about finance, business, entrepreneurship, education, travel, real estate, insurance, healthy living, social media, travel and study abroad.

Sara's writing has been published on national news sites including Mashable, The Muse and The Next Web as well as on a variety of blogs. When she's not writing, Sara enjoys spending time with her fur kids exploring the mountains of Reno/Tahoe and enjoying the outdoors.


sources