Imperial County residents are impacted with high food insecurity rate, potential food stamps cut
Forty-three percent of children living in the Imperial Valley are at risk for hunger.
This is a higher percentage of food insecurity than adults in the Valley who are at 37.8 percent, according to Feeding America Mind the Meal Gap project, which mapped out food insecurity rates across America in 2011. Food stamps and other hunger relief programs are set up in part to help those who are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle.
However, despite the struggle people already have to feed their families, members of Congress are proposing $43 billion in cuts over the next 10 years with the Farm Bill, the single largest source of federal funding for hunger relief programs such as food stamps.
“When you look at who is on Calfresh (better known as food stamps), it is children,” said Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego.
“It’s saying we’re OK to let kids in America go without food, that’s what we’re saying if we allow this bill to go forward,” said Jennifer Tracy, executive director of the Hunger Coalition.
Tracy said she has been working with national groups to advocate against the Farm Bill as it stands now. The Senate proposes to cut $4 billion from the food stamps program while the House proposes to cut $39 billion. Plus additional amendments will make the program more expensive to administer, she said.
“Charity is already unable to meet the need,” she said. To expect food banks to fill the gap is impossible and cannot work as a long-term solution.
Gilmore said being hungry has a profound impact on a person’s health. With the cut in the food stamps program and the extra reliance on food banks, a whole generation of children is going to grow up thinking food lines are the norm, she added.
“We know these kids aren’t doing well and our community down the line isn’t going to have a sustainable work force if they continue to go hungry,” she said. “It breaks my heart we’re debating whether children have the ability to eat.”
People can also end up spending several hours in a line instead of exercising or working, which would have a much higher benefit to their health.
“This is a profound issue that has an effect on an entire community’s health. (Food stamps) is a great program that’s working and doing exactly what it should be doing,” Gilmore said referring to giving people an opportunity to shop in grocery stores to get the nutrition they need.
University of California, Davis, nutrition specialist Lucia Kaiser said there is a lot of literature on the relationships between food insecurity and health outcomes, especially in children. Delays in cognitive development, lack of focus, depression and underachievement are a few outcomes a child will feel if he or she is not getting enough to eat.
She said both food assistance and informal nutrition education are necessary to improve the nutrition of the household. National data shows that more than half of the families on the food stamps program are food insecure.
“That food assistance reaches families that are really struggling to get food on the table,” she said. “A very vulnerable population that could become even more vulnerable is of great concern, I think.”