"Indiana’s “food insecurity” sees dramatic increase
With the advent of winter and associated heating costs expected to rise between 36 and 50 percent in the Midwest this year, many working families are expected to find their paychecks inadequate to cover household costs. Research shows that these families will likely cut their food budgets as a means for making ends meet. As a result, over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of families in Indiana will have to ask themselves each day whether they are going to heat or eat.
Indiana had 11.1 percent of people living in households that were considered to be food insecure from 2003-’05, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual report released last week. This marks a 31 percent increase from the 8.5 percent of Indiana households without enough food to eat in 2001. Each year, the Census Bureau measures food insecurity through a series of household survey questions about the ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life for all members.
Among the 11.1 percent of Indiana households considered to be food insecure, 4.1 percent were living in households that were considered to have “very low food security,” a new USDA term that means one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because the household couldn’t afford enough food.
Food insecurity is a technical term used to measure the number of families that lack access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. To be considered “food insecure,” the USDA requires that the family must specifically lack the needed income to acquire food. According to the most recent data, 10 percent of households in Indiana were food insecure in 2004. Of those households, nearly 4 percent were determined to be experiencing true hunger — with adults and children often going an entire day or more without eating.
To put this information in perspective, Indiana has seen continued increases in this measurement — from 8.5 percent in 1999-2001 to 10.1 percent in 2002-2004, and now to 11.1 percent in 2003-2005. At the same time, caseloads of several federal nutrition programs and demand for food assistance at community and faith-based organizations has increased substantially. After a steady decline in food stamp recipients during the 1990s, the number of families who needed food stamps in Indiana increased more than 75 percent between 2000 and 2004.
Ultimately, hunger is an income issue. The ability of an individual to purchase food is closely tied to the ability to find and keep a job that pays an adequate wage. According to the 2005 Self-Sufficiency Standard, families with two children need an income of $37,835 just to cover basic living costs such as child care, housing, utilities, transportation and food. Yet nearly 35 percent of Hoosiers earn less than $35,000 per year.
The Indiana Coalition on Housing and Homeless Issues has been actively pushing the Indiana Legislature to continue and expand their efforts to ensure that no Hoosier goes hungry through continued outreach efforts by the state. In a new report, Ensuring a Hunger-Free Indiana, the organization outlines a number of proposed solutions, including improved access to the Food Stamp Program through a transitional benefit to former TANF recipients, and instituting Universal School Breakfast Programs in more school districts across the state to address the fact that Indiana ranks 33rd in the U.S. in the ratio of children participating in the school lunch versus school breakfast programs.
Although Indiana’s 10 percent food insecurity rate is comparable to neighboring states like Illinois (9 percent), Kentucky (12 percent) and Michigan (11 percent), the numbers are particularly disturbing in light of consistent increases in participation in federal food assistance programs and increases in demands for food assistance at community and faith-based hunger relief organizations during the same period. There are still nearly 250,000 Indiana households struggling to afford enough food to eat.