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Federal Pandemic Funds Reduced NM Hunger; Longterm Worries Remain


Monday, August 22, 2022   

Food insecurity in New Mexico dropped during COVID, but groups working to fight hunger worry the temporary reprieve will reverse itself now that federal pandemic-related monies have dried up.

The latest annual study by Feeding America - called "Map the Meal Gap," and based on 2020 data - confirms food insecurity continues in all U.S. counties in all 50 states, including New Mexico.

Sonya Warwick, director of communications and events with Albuquerque's Roadrunner Food Bank, said the influx of pandemic-related emergency funds made a huge difference - at least for a while.

"We know," said Warwick, "food banks and other programs really kicked in to make sure that people had access to basic things, especially food, in that timeframe."

The federal program that paid for school meals the past two years expired in June, ending just as the next school year starts. With inflation causing hikes in gas and grocery prices, experts like Warwick said they fear the positive data showing a decrease in hunger will be undone in the next two years.

Warwick cited study results that show New Mexico ranks second in the nation for childhood hunger. She said agencies that distribute food need donations more than ever, because inflation has caused the cost of such basic items as soup and peanut butter to skyrocket.

"What 'Map the Meal Gap' showed," said Warwick, "is that one in five children, or about 20.5% of children in the state, are at risk of hunger, and one in eight overall."

In some areas of the state partnerships with food banks, including Roadrunner, are limited - which shows up in data for Luna County in southwest New Mexico, where Warwick said food insecurity often depends on the job market and how much those jobs pay.

"For childhood hunger, for example," said Warwick, "Luna County is at about 32.7% which is the highest rate for all counties in the state of New Mexico."

For the first time, the report looked at food insecurity rates for various ethnic groups. Hispanics make up almost 50% of the state's population, and the report found one in six is at risk of hunger.

Disclosure: Roadrunner Food Bank contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Community Issues and Volunteering, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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