- The national rate of food insecurity dropped slightly from 12.9%of the total population to 12.5%;
- Nationally, the rate of food insecurity among children dropped from 17.5 percent of to 17%.
- Across the Commonwealth, food insecurity has dropped almost to pre-recession rates.
So, that’s good news right? Well, unfortunately, the picture in northeastern Essex County seems to be bucking the trend.
First, let me provide a little context. Since 2015, ONT has worked with data estimates of 6,000 food insecure individuals in northeastern Essex County (1 out of 8 children; 1 out of 5 seniors) across our service area (GBFB, 2015). However, the latest data provided to ONT from Greater Boston Food Bank indicates a regional increase to 6,500. While that may not seem like a huge number, it’s a more than 15% increase in need across 5 of the 10 Massachusetts communities we serve.
- Food insecure households in Newburyport have increased by 17%
- In 2015, data indicated more than 1300 Newburyport residents were living in food-insecure households;
- Current reports show that has increased to more than 1500 residents
- Amesbury isn’t far behind – with a similar increase from over 1200 residents to more than 1400 residents
- Salisbury and Merrimac show the greatest increase in need
- Salisbury shows an increase of 40%
- Merrimac shoes and increase of 37%
Let me rephrase that: A family of four would typically consume 84 meals in a week. But current wages, cost of living and food costs now force that family of four to live on only 61.6 meals for the week, meaning everyone can only eat twice a day, or, most likely, mom and dad will alternate days eating so their children don’t have to go without. “Sorry, Mom, it’s Tuesday – it’s Dad’s turn to eat.”
So what can we do – collectively – to make sure that our friends and neighbors and colleagues are getting what they need to get on the path to food security?
Step 1 is understanding:
We must better understand the local barriers that prohibit people from accessing adequate, quality food to support a healthy lifestyle (the USDA definition of “food secure”). Last year, in partnership with members of its Food Security Advisory Group, ONT surveyed local residents to measure rates of food insecurity and understand its causes. In a diverse sample including individuals and households across the age spectrum, 25% (1 out of 4) tested positive for food insecurity. Among them, 55% reported employment as their primary source of income, yet 70% reported “not enough money” as the primary obstacle to keeping themselves and their family fed.
The other alarming statistic we’ve uncovered is the gap between those who need help and those who are getting it. In recent years, various organizations have begun measuring the SNAP Gap – the percent of people who are eligible for SNAP (aka food stamps) but are not getting it. Nationally, the SNAP Gap stands at roughly 15%. In Massachusetts, it’s about 25%. In ONT’s service area, it’s 60%! Sixty percent of people who are eligible for SNAP are not getting the benefits they need. As we work with our local partners who are also providing food assistance, that SNAP Gap is consistent with how many people in need in Newburyport are utilizing services and programs available.
Why is this important? It requires us to examine what services are available and how they are delivered. We ask ourselves these questions every day:
- Are services accessible to people in need?
- Do they provide meaningful assistance?
- Does our community culture support people in asking for and receiving help when they need it?