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New USDA Study Estimates that nearly 1 in 6 Louisianans Experience Food Insecurity

According to the latest food insecurity study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS), an estimated 15.8% of all Louisiana households are food insecure. The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough, nutritious foods to live a healthy lifestyle.

Households with low food security typically report reduced quality, variety, or desirability in their diets due to food access challenges but do not necessarily reduce their food intake because of these challenges. Households with very low food security however, are those that report multiple instances of reduced intake or disruptions to their normal eating patterns because of barriers to access. Under this definition, more than a third of Louisiana’s food insecure households are considered to have very low food security.

The USDA’s latest food insecurity estimates of food insecurity in Louisiana represent an improvement from 2015 levels, which peaked at 18.4%. However, Louisiana still sits significantly above the national food insecurity rate of 11.7% and our prevalence of food insecurity remains much higher than the state’s pre-recession rate of 11%, suggesting that there is still a long way to go to rebuild our local economy and stabilize the nearly 1-in-6 Louisianans facing hunger.

The report also found that of the 14.9 million Americans determined to be food insecure, an estimated 44%, or more than 6.5 million, do not participate in any of the major federal nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or the National School Lunch Program’s Free & Reduced rate meals (NSLP). This suggests that many households in need do not benefit from these programs.

Economically, programs like SNAP and WIC not only support struggling workers and families, but drive dollars into local food economies. The USDA estimates that for every dollar spent on SNAP, $1.54 is generated in economic activity, with more than $2 billion dollars entering the Louisiana economy from SNAP benefits alone annually. In terms of the emergency food system and its ability to serve Louisianans in need, for every meal provided by a food bank, food pantry, shelter, etc., SNAP is able to provide 9.

Also highlighted by the report is the idea that food insecurity tends to be episodic, affecting a household when resources are particularly tight but not necessarily every day, week, or month; in fact, many food insecure households are actively food insecure, often changing their regular eating habits due to a lack of food or resources an average of 7 months out of the year. Recognizing this pattern, these households may need immediate food resources, such as those provided by a food bank, as well as regular support from the federal safety net programs and long-term pathways out of poverty and food insecurity.

While we celebrate the state’s overall decrease in the prevalence of food insecurity, it is important to recognize that nearly 300,000 Louisiana households still experience food insecurity. Louisiana remains the state with the third highest rate of food insecurity in the country, falling only behind Mississippi and New Mexico. We must better support our struggling communities by taking action to strengthen both the legislative response to hunger through SNAP, WIC, and child nutrition programs, as well as increasing the resources available to food banks and community partners working to keep food on the table for thousands of Louisianans every day.

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