Feeding America Study Shows Food-Insecure Families Need More Help to Make Ends Meet

May 25, 2021 / 5 mins read

A new study recently released by Feeding America shows that household budgets were seeing further strain despite improvements in overall food insecurity rates before the pandemic. Map the Meal Gap is the only study that provides local-level estimates of food insecurity and food costs across the United States and has been produced by Feeding America for the last 11 years. In The Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank’s service area, the food insecurity rate is 6.7% or 1 in 15 people.

This year’s study, which provides data for 2019, shows a widening gap for households struggling to get by ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Planning District 16, encompassing Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford counties, as well as the City of Fredericksburg, a person who is food insecure is estimated to need an additional $559 per month to buy just enough food to meet their needs as of 2019. In addition, the study finds that almost 37% of people who live in food-insecure households are likely ineligible for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs, further underscoring the importance of charitable food assistance and the need to protect and strengthen federal nutrition programs.

“The annual Map the Meal Gap study is an important tool for depicting the reality of hunger in our service territory,” said Dan Maher, President & CEO of the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank. “Hunger is a complex issue that affects real people. It cannot be understood completely by data, but the research Feeding America shares with its network partners and with the nation, each year certainly helps us better understand the scope and magnitude of the issue. This report shows us that even in a relatively strong economic region like ours, there is still much we need to do to ensure food security for all.”

Food insecurity is a measure defined by the USDA as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap continued to show that all 3,142 counties and county-equivalents as well as 436 congressional districts in all 50 states are home to people facing hunger.

Other key findings of the 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap include:

The Child Food insecurity Rate for PD16 is 8.3% or 1 in 12 children
The City of Fredericksburg continues to have the highest food insecurity rate, with an overall rate of 12.5% and a Child Food Insecurity Rate of 13.8%.
Caroline County has an overall rate of 7.3%, and an 11.3% Child Food Insecurity Rate.
Spotsylvania County has an overall rate of 6.9%, and an 8.6% Child Food Insecurity Rate.
King George County has an overall rate of 6%, and an 8.6% Child Food Insecurity Rate.
Stafford County has an overall rate of 4.8%, and a 5.9% Child Food Insecurity Rate.
“As the only study to provide local-level food insecurity data, Map the Meal Gap is a critical tool as we work to understand the root causes of hunger,” said Tom Summerfelt, VP of Research at Feeding America. “While the economic crisis unfolded last year in the wake of the pandemic, Map the Meal Gap provided the basis for our projections analysis that helped the Feeding America network plan an effective response and work more effectively with partners to serve our neighbors in need.”

Map the Meal Gap uses the most recent data from USDA, the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and food price data and analysis provided by NielsenIQ, a global measurement, and data analytics company. The study is supported by Conagra Brands Foundation and NielsenIQ.

Map the Meal Gap provides the following data online through an interactive map:

  • The estimated percentage of the population and number of individuals who are food insecure in every U.S. state, county, and congressional district, as well as the service area of each Feeding America food bank.
  • The percentage of the food-insecure population who likely qualifies for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs.
  • The percentage of the food-insecure population who likely does not qualify for federal nutrition programs and thus must rely even more on charitable food assistance. These percentages reflect individuals in households with earnings that are higher than the state gross income limits for federal nutrition programs.
  • The average meal cost in every state and county.
  • The food budget shortfall in every state and county.

In addition, Feeding America has released food insecurity projections for 2020 and 2021. The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity leverages the Map the Meal Gap model to predict changes to food insecurity rates for the overall population and children in response to projected changes to poverty and unemployment in the wake of the COVD-19 pandemic. According to the latest projections, up to 31,420 people may experience food insecurity in 2021, which is down from earlier projections. That food insecurity levels may be lower than originally projected is likely a reflection of the massive public/private partnership to meet an emerging food crisis that has taken place since the pandemic began.

“As throughout the rest of the nation, food access has certainly been a prominent issue in the Fredericksburg region since the pandemic began”, said Maher. “We continue to see the fallout of the pandemic as thousands of newly needy people turn to the Food Bank and other hunger-fighting organizations for support. Our community has been remarkably responsive and supportive thus far and we need to sustain that level of support for many years to come as the economic recovery from the pandemic continues.”

Dr. Craig Gundersen, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory, and a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group is the lead researcher of Map the Meal Gap.

To explore the various research tools and briefs available from Feeding America, visit feedingamerica.org/research.

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