Food insecurity in Louisiana has grown significantly since the Great Recession, indicating that more individuals and families – especially those with children younger than 18 – are lacking enough money to buy food at some point in the year.
New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that nearly one in six households in Louisiana struggle against hunger. The problem is worse in Louisiana than nationally – 15.7 percent versus 14.7 percent – and the increase in food insecurity has grown more quickly in Louisiana than at the national level since the start of the Great Recession. The number of Louisiana households that spend a portion of the year without adequate means to buy food has grown by 5.7 percent between 2007-09 and 2010-12, while the national rate has grown by only 1.2 percent.
The new data comes as Congress debates new cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as “food stamps”), which would be in addition to an across-the-board cut for all participants that is scheduled to take effect Nov. 1. The House is proposing to cut the program by more than $40 billion over the next 10 years, while the Senate plan would cut around $4 billion.
Cutting food benefits is likely to exacerbate Louisiana’s hunger problem. As LBP explained in June, SNAP provided essential support to 1 in 5 Louisianans last year. The program proved successful at keeping families, children and seniors living near the poverty line from going hungry. Overhead costs are low, as are rates of fraud and misuse.
Organizations around Louisiana are working to combat the problem in various ways – from mobile farmers’ markets to community gardens and food banks. East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden and members of Together Baton Rouge launched a Food Access Policy Commission to study how the capital city can improve food access to residents living in “food deserts,” defined as areas with inadequate access to fresh, affordable food needed to maintain a healthy diet. In New Orleans, “Treme” star Wendell Pierce opened Sterling Farms in an effort to improve access to healthy, fresh and affordable food to residents there.
But the unfortunate fact remains that many families continue to struggle with food insecurity because they simply don’t have enough money to buy food – sometimes resulting in skipped meals and unhealthy dietary habits. Cutting SNAP and other benefits that have been proven to help people put food on the table for themselves and their families would mean more post-recession hardship across Louisiana.