There are many faces of hunger in Nebraska

Feeding-America-LogoA new study released this week highlighted the often-overlooked fact that food insecurity is a problem faced by hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors here in Nebraska.

The study, Hunger In America 2014, was produced by Feeding America, an anti-hunger organization that operates a nationwide series of food banks. It examines the number and demographics of people who receive food from food pantries across the country.

The Lincoln Journal Star broke down the numbers in Nebraska in a recent story on the study. The demographics in the report show that hunger is a problem that crosses all demographic lines in our state. Nebraskans who struggle to get the food they need come from every age, race, employment status, and education level.

The study found that in Nebraska:

* 25,400 people receive food from Lincoln and Omaha-area food banks each week.

* 64 percent of those visiting the food banks identify themselves as white; 16 percent are Hispanic or Latino; 7 percent are African-American.

* 18 percent are 60 or older.

* 55 percent said at least one person in their home was employed at some point last year.

* 42 percent have some form of post-secondary education.

* 70 percent said they had to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities.

* 64 percent had to choose between paying for food or medicine/medical care.

Notice that these numbers create a face of poverty that may be different than perceived stereotypes. A large majority of the people who visited food banks were white, over half of the households were working families, and a large percentage had at least some college education.

Food banks play a vital role to alleviate hunger in our state, and they do a fantastic job.  However it is unreasonable to ask them to fight hunger alone.  It is absolutely essential that our public policies work as effectively as possible to fight hunger, too.  And our policymakers have a large role to play in making sure those policies work.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps 170,000 Nebraskans – nearly 10 percent of our population – get enough to eat each year, and nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children.

Our leaders must protect crucial anti-hunger programs like SNAP and fight against dangerous changes to the program that would endanger hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans.  And our state agencies must do more to ensure food assistance is administered as quickly and efficiently as possible so fewer Nebraska families face the crisis of hunger.

We are a better and stronger state when Nebraskans of all backgrounds – parents, workers, children, and older adults alike – have the food they need to be healthy and productive.

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