Today, California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) released data from UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) showing at least four million low-income Californians faced food insecurity during 2011-12. While the economy may be recovering, many households are still struggling in its wake.
Food-insecurity is the inability to consistently afford enough food. Researchers find that food-insecure adults face higher risks of chronic diseases (like diabetes and hypertension) as well as depression and poor mental health. For children, food insecurity is also linked to poor academic outcomes.
CHIS estimates 50% of low-income adults in Santa Barbara County lack consistent access to an adequate diet. While CHIS researchers only assess food insecurity when surveying adults in households with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, experts agree that the effects of food insecurity can reach beyond this population.
“Households with higher incomes are at risk of food insecurity too, particularly if those households include children or a family member with high medical expenses — or if a family doesn’t have access to basic necessities like affordable housing. The numbers released today likely underestimate the true number of California households coping with food insecurity,” said Dr. Hilary Seligman, MD, MAS, Assistant Professor at University of California San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center.
Access to living-wage jobs and other essentials like affordable health care and housing will help lift Californians out of poverty, providing protection against food insecurity. In the absence of these preventative factors, relief from food insecurity should come in the form of safety net programs. Unfortunately, these programs do not reach all eligible Californians. For instance, the latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture show that only 55 percent of eligible individuals participate in CalFresh (known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).
While Californians are forced to make difficult choices about buying food or meeting other critical needs, our leaders are choosing to cut vital nutrition programs. Case in point, Congress stands to eliminate between $4 and $40 billion dollars from SNAP through ongoing Farm Bill negotiations.
“While more than four million food-insecure Californians may seem like an overwhelming number, strong public policies once built a safety net in this country that virtually eliminated hunger. Our local, state, and federal leaders have the power to ensure that all Californians are well nourished each and every day of the year. We are calling on those leaders to act,” said George Manalo-LeClair, Executive Director of CFPA.
Californians need year-round access to nutritious, affordable food in order to lead healthy and productive lives.
· Congress should support a Farm Bill that preserves and protects SNAP funding.
· The Governor and California State Legislature should invest in child care nutrition so that low-income providers can offer our youngest children access to healthy meals.
· State and local leaders should make certain that school meals are served at a time and place when students are best able to benefit from these resources.