Mississippi is the state with the highest share of residents who struggle to afford food, according to a new Gallup report. Just over a quarter say there was at least one time over the past year when they didn’t have enough money to buy the food they or their families needed.
West Virginia and Louisiana were close behind, both with 23 percent of residents struggling to get adequate food. In 16 states total, at least one in five residents couldn’t afford the food they needed, twice the number as the year before.
Alabama, where 22.9 percent of residents have had a hard time buying food, “has been among the 10 states most likely to report struggling to afford food in each of the six years Gallup and Healthways have tracked this measure,” the report notes. “Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia are also frequent visitors on this list, with each state appearing five times since tracking began.”
Overall, 18.9 percent of Americans struggled to afford food last year. That’s a slight uptick from 2012, when the figure was 18.2 percent, and an increase from 17.8 percent in 2008, the year it began tracking the figure and the lowest rate so far. Hunger has spiked since the recession, and more than 50 million Americans are now food insecure.
These numbers come just after Congress passed a farm bill that reduces Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits for 850,000 households by about $90 a month. Some will be spared from that cut, as the governors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are using a complicated formula involving assistance for home heating to keep benefit levels the same, and others are looking at whether to follow. But that reduction came on top of an automatic one for all recipients in November, which reduced benefits by about $9 per person each month.
The high rates of food insecurity coupled with food stamp cuts have put an unbearable strain on the country’s food pantries and kitchens. Among the mayors of 25 cities, 83 percent say the demand on these private charities has increased by an average of 7 percent, but in two-thirds of the states they had to turn needy people away because they didn’t have enough resources, and in every city they had to reduce the quantity of food they gave out.
Congress has other options if it’s looking to reduce spending on the food stamp program without hurting Americans struggling to get adequate nutrition. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce spending on SNAP by $46 billion over a decade. Or it could just wait, as the program is projected to shrink by half in the same timespan.