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Analysis Finds Southern Tier Food Insecurity Grew Nearly 5% In 2020

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Feeding America's projected food insecurity rates for 2020 show increases between 3 and 4.5 percent for every county in the Southern Tier.

Natasha Thompson, CEO and president of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier*, said 40 percent of the people they served in 2020 were new to their system—people who were laid off or furloughed, seniors forced to isolate and parents with kids who suddenly weren’t able to get their meals from school.

"Food pantries and meal programs that exist across the region are really here for all of us," said Thompson. "For many of us, we are one or two emergencies away from needing help."

According to Feeding America, 50 million people nationally may experience food insecurity because of COVID-19.

Food insecurity means after paying fixed costs of living, like rent and childcare, there may not be enough left over for nutritious, culturally-appropriate food. There are varying levels of food insecurity; some people worry about getting enough food or healthy foods, while others skip meals to save money.

Thompson said the largest demographic the Food Bank serves is the working poor. They are the group she is most concerned about once intervention from the federal government ends. Many people have relied on extra unemployment benefits and eviction moratoria to keep themselves and their children in their homes and fed. Some people, Thompson said, will feel the pandemic's impact on food security for many years.

It took about 10 years for food security rates to recover from the Great Recession.

Monica Hake, a senior manager of the research team at Feeding America, concurs it will take time to recover.

"We've seen unemployment drop much more than it originally was projected to be expected to be," Hake said. "Which I think is hopeful."

Hake added that with continued support from the government for programs like the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), the people they serve will bounce back better and sooner.

Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap study has taken a more general view of food insecurity, and looks specifically at households with children. They have not yet broken the data down by demographic.

"We are hoping to do that more so going forward as we’ve begun to better understand that the disparities that existed before COVID started are likely widening," Hake explained. "For example, food insecurity among Black individuals was about 2.5 times that of white individuals."

Before COVID-19, food insecurity rates were the lowest they have been in over 20 years.

*Full Disclosure: The Food Bank of The Southern Tier has been a partner of WSKG.