Last time, we began an in-depth dive into resource stability, starting with the issue of housing and the role that safe and affordable housing plays in the life of someone experiencing poverty.
This month, we’ll continue our resource stability discussion by exploring another key aspect – food. Like housing, food is essential not only to human survival but also to holistic, long-term well-being.
The federal government considers an individual to be in poverty if they earn less than $1,012 per month. In Texas, the average cost of food for a single person, per month, is approximately $256. This is roughly one-fourth of someone in poverty’s monthly income.
As of 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 10 percent of people (roughly 211,000) live at or below this poverty line in Tarrant County. This means more than 200,000 of our friends and neighbors are earning wages that do not allow them to afford enough nutritional food to survive. (United Ways of Texas, 2020; U.S. Census Bureau, 2019)
This is consistent with Feeding America’s USDA-based calculation of the number of households facing food insecurity in Tarrant County. In 2017, the organization estimated that nearly 16 percent of individuals (approximately 320,000) in our county were food insecure. (Feeding America, 2017)
Impact of COVID-19
Although final data has yet to reveal the true impact COVID-19 has had on households’ food security, preliminary data from the U.S. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) suggests that food insecurity has grown because of the pandemic. The CBPP reported a nearly 6 percent increase in food insecurity across the country between 2019 and 2020. (CBPP, 2020)
Food insecurity is further exacerbated by geography. Thirty percent of Fort Worth residents live in a food desert. A food desert is a location that is at least one mile away from a grocery store. This means that one-third of the people in Fort Worth cannot get to a grocery store without some type of transportation. (USDA Economic Research Service, 2019)
In the past 12 months, food prices have increased nearly 12% and the staples have seen a sharper increase. Milk, cheese, fruits, and vegetables are up almost 15% while eggs, chicken, meat and fish have increased closer to 17%. (US Consumer Price Index, June 2022)
Why It’s Important
Food insecurity does not necessarily mean that our neighbors are going without eating (although this can be the case in extreme circumstances). Food insecurity means someone has limited or uncertain access to adequate food. A person who is food insecure may be worried that food will run out, may cut the size of their meal or skip a meal, may not eat when they are hungry, and often the food they were able to purchase did not last or had to be rationed in order to last until the next pay check.
What researchers have discovered is that when a person’s income doesn’t afford them the dignity of adequate and nutritional food, they turn to inexpensive foods that are often unhealthy and void of nutritional value. This includes foods that are potentially dangerous and past their expiration dates. This is a common strategy employed and cited by those facing food insecurity, and it is directly related to an increase in illness and healthcare costs. (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, & Singh, 2018; Feeding America, 2014, 2019)
- In 2014, healthcare interventions due to food insecurity cost the U.S. $160 billion – illness that not only costs our healthcare system but risks interrupting individuals’ ability to work, thus perpetuating this pernicious cycle of poverty. (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, & Singh, 2018; Feeding America, 2014, 2019)
- Because food insecurity adversely influences one’s health, it can also lead to other setbacks on someone’s journey out of poverty. For example, poor health has been shown to interfere with school performance, work productivity, and chronic stress. (Aspen Institute, 2016; RTI International, 2014; Seligam, Laraia, & Kushel, 2010)
How We Help
As an agency, we address resource barriers in every single program. We look to solve for resource instability in a few different but key ways:
Short-term and immediate needs: Helping families that have an urgent and pressing need, providing a combination of resource connection and temporary financial assistance, which can include rental and utility assistance.
Chronic resource issues: Our long-term case management programs integrate resource connection and strategic financial assistance with service planning, addressing more chronic resource-related issues, including a family’s need for affordable and stable housing.
CCFW has a team of Resource Specialists who are the agency’s in-house experts on community resources and help our programs guide clients in the right direction. Resource Specialists are available to all CCFW program staff, and they assist via one-on-one consultations, trainings and education on resource connection, and access to the preferred resource partners developed by the Resource Specialists. This multifaceted strategy helps CCFW program staff more strategically and effectively leverage community resources for their clients.
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Our Research and Evaluation team works diligently to stay on top of current poverty-related research, as well as evaluate our own agency’s impact. This newsletter and blog series is an initiative to share our learnings and keep our supporters in-the-know.
Aspen Institute. (2016). Advancing Health through Food Security. Retrieved from https://childrenshealthwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/Aspen-Report.pdf.
CDC. (2013). State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/State-Indicator-Report-Fruits-Vegetables-2013.pdf.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2020). Tracking the Covid-19 Economy’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships. Retrieved from https:// www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and.
Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2018). Household food insecurity in the United States in 2017. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report Number 256. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=90022.
Feeding America. (2014). Hunger in America 2014: National Report. Retrieved from help.feedingamerica.org/HungerInAmerica/hunger-in-america-2014-full-report.pdf?s_src=W159ORGSC&s_referrer=google&s_subsrc=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.feedingamerica.org%2Fhunger-inameric.
Feeding America. (2017). Food Insecurity in Tarrant County Before Covid. Retrieved from https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2017/overall/texas/county/tarrant.
Feeding America. (2019). Food Insecurity in the United States. Retrieved from https:///map.feedingamerica.org/.
RTI International. (2014). Current and Prospective Scope of Hunger and Food Security in America. Retrieved https://www.rti.org/sites/default/files/resources/full_hunger_report_final_07-24-14.pdf.
Seligam, H., Laraia, B., & Kushel, M. (2010). Food insecurity is associated with chronic disease among low-income NHANES participants. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(2).
United Ways of Texas. (2020). ALICE: A Financial Hardship Study. Retrieved from https://unitedforalice.org/all-reports
U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). American Community Survey, 2019. Retrieved from http://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=United%20States.