/Mississippi still the hungriest state

Mississippi still the hungriest state

In 2016, more than 600,000 Mississippians (roughly 20 percent) had difficulty accessing healthy meals. This was the last year data were available. This eighth edition of Feeding America’s annual report Map the Meal Gap is available. Each year Mississippi has the highest level of food insecurity at around 20 percent. It was the only state that reached this mark between 2012 and 2016. To determine the level of food insecurity, the study relies on Census questions about food security and economic indicators like unemployment, median income, poverty, and home ownership. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food security is defined as having sufficient resources and easy access to healthy food throughout the year. The highest level of food insecurity was found in Jefferson County (36%) Other Mississippi counties had similar high rates: Holmes (35%), Claiborne (34%), Humphreys (34%), and Issaquena (33%). Because it is rural, the Delta is a major area. There are many people who live far from their nearest grocery store. Charles Beady is chief executive officer at the Mississippi Food Network. Feeding America serves 430 agencies in the state. But that’s also true for Jackson, the state capital. Beady stated that Jackson is almost entirely a food desert. “Around 20 percent of Jackson’s residents are below or at poverty level, and one third live more than a mile from a grocery shop. There are many food deserts in the state. Twenty-five percent of Hinds County residents are food insecure. The national rate is only 13 percent. Matt Knott, Feeding America president, stated that while food security has improved nationally and in Mississippi over the last few years, hunger remains a pressing problem. Knott stated that Feeding America is especially concerned about the challenges faced by rural and southern communities following the Great Recession. “While we are pleased that food insecurity rates have decreased in recent years,” Knott said. However, 30 percent of Mississippians who struggle with hunger earn too much to be eligible for SNAP benefits. The cutoff salary in Mississippi for SNAP eligibility is $15,782, which is 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines. National Public Radio reported that the Farm Bill was introduced by members of Congress on April 12. It would raise work requirements for those who are eligible for SNAP. Supporters of the bill argue that mandatory job training will increase employment and reduce poverty. Knott stated that while Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks provides more than 4 billion meals each year to those who are hungry, SNAP only serves 12 meals per meal. “While Congress is debating the 2018 Farm Bill,” Knott stated that SNAP must remain strong and protected so people who are facing hunger and trying to reestablish their independence have access to the essential food resources. “We see a lot of people in that gap, making too much money (for food assistance programs), and not enough to feed your family.” “If you talk about increasing the (work) requirement that will mean you’re likely to put more people into the category of hungry or food insecure which means our job is even harder than it is now.” The report also maps the income gap and the average meal price for each county. For more data, click here.