Map The Meal Gap

May 15, 2024 / 5 mins read

Feeding America study shows the amount of money people facing hunger need to be food secure reaches the highest level in 20 years.

The extra amount of money that people facing hunger said they need to have enough food reached its highest point in the last 20 years, according to Feeding America's annual Map The Mal Gap study. At the local level, Map the Meal Gap finds that. The Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank is one of more than 200 food banks in Feeding America's nationwide food bank network.

Map the Meal Gap is the only study providing local-level estimates of food insecurity and costs for every county and congressional district. The study builds upon the USDA’s latest national and state data report, which showed a sharp increase in food insecurity in 2022 amidst historically high food prices and the expiration of many pandemic-era programs. Map the Meal Gap emphasizes the urgent call for us to take action.

"The insights from this year's study confirm what we hear from people facing hunger: elevated food prices are making hunger in America worse," said Dan Maher. "This powerful tool helps us understand the impact of food insecurity and underlines that we can choose to end hunger in America by coming together as a nation."

Other key findings of Map the Meal Gap include:

Food Insecurity by Geography:

  • Food insecurity impacts communities in every county, parish, and congressional district in the U.S.
  • Estimated food insecurity levels vary across regions, influenced by factors like unemployment and poverty rates as well as policies and practices rooted in history that continue to hold people back today.
  • In Virginia, food insecurity ranges from a low of 6.9% in Loudon County to 21.7% in Buchanan County. Of the communities the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank serves, we see food insecurity range from a low of 7.3% in Stafford County to a high of 14.5% in Fredericksburg City.
  • Nationally, child food insecurity rates can reach almost 50% in some counties. Here in Virginia, it can reach as high as 30.5%.

Income and Food Spending:

  • Nearly 50% of people facing hunger may not qualify for SNAP benefits due to income thresholds. Here in Virginia, the percentage is 48% of people facing hunger may not qualify for SNAP.
  • The national food budget shortfall, which reflects the extra money that people who are food insecure report needing to cover their food needs, has hit a record high of $33.1 billion, up nearly 43% from the previous year. This translates to $24.73 a week per person, on average.
  • Residents of Spotsylvania County feel this first-hand, with an estimated food budget shortfall of $10.1 million

Food Costs and Meal Prices:

  • The national average cost per meal has increased to $3.99, marking a nearly 3% increase compared to the prior year and reaching its highest point in the last two decades, even after adjusting for inflation.
  • Meal costs vary significantly by county throughout the nation and here in Virginia, ranging from $2.91 to $6.67, showcasing the diverse economic challenges faced by communities. In the Central Rappahannock River Region, the average cost per meal is $4.28, which reflects the growing need we see at the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank.

Food Insecurity by Race and Ethnicity:

  • While nationally nearly 40% of the food insecure population in the US is white, food insecurity rates among Black and Latino individuals exceed those of white individuals in most counties. These disparities are an example of how historical, social, economic, and environmental factors have held many communities of color back, creating barriers to food insecurity.
  • Racial disparities persist, with significant variations in food insecurity rates across different racial and ethnic groups and geographic locations.
  • Virginia is no exception. While white residents experience a food insecurity rate of %, the food insecurity rate for Black and Latino populations is % and % respectively.

The Map the Meal Gap study is supported by Conagra Brands Foundation and NielsenIQ/NIQ. Additional key takeaways from the report can be found on the Map the Meal Gap website along with an interactive map that details food insecurity by geography, income, race, and ethnicity.

Map the Meal Gap uses publicly available data from the USDA ERS, U.S. Census Bureau, and Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate local food insecurity at the county, congressional district, and state levels. The study also estimates local meal costs and food budget shortfalls using food price data from NIQ based on the USDA Thrifty Food Plan, and grocery sales tax data for every county and state in the country.

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