Food Deserts

The United States has now hit the worst levels of hunger in decades with 54 million Americans having no reliable access to food.

Data Source: USDA 2018

The Path Forward 

Food assistance programs do exist to help Americans in need. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, helps 40 million low-income Americans each year receive an average of $127 per month to buy food. On top of SNAP, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) serve approximately 15 million breakfasts and 30 million lunches daily at low or no cost to students.

Nevertheless, these programs are still unable to provide enough food to the counties most at risk. The USDA estimates that families would need another $20 billion to completely eliminate the food insecurity shortfall. As such — two possible paths exist for reducing food insecurity and improving healthy living in America.

  • 🎟 Increase the SNAP budget — Food stamps have a long history of feeding Americans. Since its inception in 1939, the Food Stamp program has helped hundreds of millions of Americans achieve food security. Every year it effectively lifts about 1% of the American population out of povertyThe most food insecure counties rely the most on SNAP. Unsurprisingly, I found there there is a 77% correlation between household income and food insecurity. An increase in the SNAP budget by 10% can reduce food insecurity for children by 22%. Congress needs to reverse the trend that President Trump set in motion when he decreased the SNAP budget. In 2019, the federal government allocated $60 billion to food stamps, the lowest level in a decade. Policymakers have known for more than 80 years how effective SNAP is for reducing hunger and should reignite their support of this program.

 

  • 🍎 Increase Access to Healthy Foods — The New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) has been one of America’s most successful policies for encouraging new development in underserved areas. Although NMTCs are not exclusively focused on food deserts, they have helped fund the creation of over 300 supermarkets in food deserts in recent years. This would make it easier for organizations like Daily Table to spread to neighborhoods most in need. Moreover, Congress currently has a bi-partisan bill on the floor called Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act (HFAAA) which would provide dedicated tax credits to stores and supermarkets identified as “Special Access Food Providers” (SAFPs). Congress should pass this bill so that food providers wouldn’t have to compete with other development types for tax credits.