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Report: Arkansas leads nation in food insecurity; urgent action urged

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Tuesday, November 14, 2023   

The number of families in Arkansas and across the nation that are struggling to put food on the table rose dramatically last year, according to the latest USDA report.

In 2021, 13 million Americans did not know where their next meal would come from. In 2022, the number rose to 17 million, or one in eight households.

Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance CEO Kathy Webb said the increase in food insecurity is in sync with the end of pandemic-related food and other assistance programs, which helped bring the nation's poverty rate to new lows. She said charitable food networks are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for food that they can provide to families.

"The amount of food that's available has really dropped off, yet the number of people seeking food assistance has not, therefore the food banks are having to purchase more food," Webb explained. "They're having to pay more for the food that they purchase. So there's a gap between what they have and the need."

The USDA report shows an estimated prevalence rate of food insecurity during a 3 year period ranged from 6.2% in New Hampshire to 16.6% in Arkansas. The U.S. child poverty rate more than doubled between 2021 and 2022, rising from 5% to 12%.

Over the weekend, a proposal to extend government spending after Friday included a plan to extend the Farm Bill. Senator John Boozman of Arkansas and other legislators released a statement endorsing the bill extension.

In the meantime, Webb says the Farm Bill is crucial to farmers and Arkansans as it includes the National School Lunch Program, WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the three largest anti-hunger initiatives.

"We need to make sure there are no cuts to those programs, because that would have a very negative effect not only on Arkansans, who are struggling with food insecurity," Webb contended. "But it would have a negative effect on Arkansas retailers, Arkansas farmers, Arkansas producers. "

Webb emphasized that Arkansas has a low participation rate in SNAP and WIC and as a result, many families are not getting the food they need, and she added it is important for Arkansans to work with their elected officials to focus on food insecurity and increase outreach to individuals who qualify for benefits.


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