A report last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that food insecurity in the United States last year remained level compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

According to “Household Food Security in the United States in 2020,” 89.5% of U.S. households were food secure last year. The remaining 10.5% (13.8 million households) were food insecure. Food-insecure households (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. The 2020 prevalence of food insecurity was unchanged from 10.5% in 2019.

That’s encouraging.

In 2020, 3.9% of U.S. households (5.1 million) had very low food security, not significantly different from 4.1% in 2019. In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because of limited resources due to the pandemic.

Here in Vermont, 8.6% of the state’s 273,000 households reported being food insecure in 2020, down from 9.8% (an average) between 2015-17 and 13.8% (average) between 2008-10. Very low food insecurity was reported in 2.8% of Vermont households down from 3.6% (average) between 2015-17 and 6.1% (average) in 2008-10.

The relatively stable numbers from 2019 to 2020 “shows that with adequate federal and state government support we can solve hunger in Vermont and across the nation,” according to a joint release issued by the Vermont Foodbank and Hunger Free Vermont.

According to the USDA report, most U.S. households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living — they are food secure. However, some households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources. USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs aim to increase food security by providing low-income households access to food for a healthful diet, as well as nutrition education. USDA monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households each year.

About 55% of food-insecure households nationwide reported they participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs: SNAP, WIC or the National School Lunch Program.

“This report shows that the vast expansion of government aid and strong partnerships between government and non-government organizations completely erased the massive COVID-induced surge in food insecurity. While food insecurity rates were high before COVID, far too many people still struggle to afford food,” the Vermont-based organizations’ news release states. “These findings show that, with ample funding and resources, we can move the needle on hunger in America.”

“In Vermont, we know there was a dramatic increase in people accessing charitable food when the pandemic hit, and that surge remains today” John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, stated in the release. “Increases in government aid and public support meant food access was able to grow dramatically to meet the critical need.”

In the release, Anore Horton, executive director at Hunger Free Vermont stressed that the increased federal funds targeted to 3SquaresVT, Meals on Wheels and meals for children also allowed these stable nutrition programs to respond quickly to the pandemic. “The emergency expansion and added flexibility of our national food security system worked, and needs to be continued,” Horton said. “We are far from a full recovery, and hunger is always an emergency.”

According to the release, both the state and federal government stepped in to provide needed support, in addition to community philanthropy and volunteers, enabling organizations to effectively increase food distribution at a critical time. Additionally, other governmental supports worked to address financial insecurity and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on households, it states.

We would agree with Sayles’ and Horton’s assessment that pre-pandemic levels of hunger in Vermont were unacceptable, with nearly one in four people in Vermont experiencing food insecurity. (During the COVID-19 crisis, this rose to one in three, they said.)

The release concluded, “While a triumph, this demonstrates the continued need for investment from government and partnership between government and non-government organizations to address, and ideally, end hunger in Vermont.”

If the pandemic has a silver lining, it is that we have proven we can move the needle and make the difference if we want to. Now we must.

Food resources can be found at vermontfoodhelp.com and or by texting VFBSNAP to 85511.

In addition, you can review the full report at www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us online.

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