Nov 27, 2023 - News

Food insecurity is on the rise in Virginia

Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

Food insecurity is on the rise in Virginia, according to the latest federal data.

Why it matters: The share of our neighbors who can't reliably afford food has ticked up due to historic inflation rates and the disappearance of pandemic-era benefits.

What's happening: Around 9.3% of Virginia households were food insecure on average between 2020-2022, Axios' Emily Peck and Kavya Beheraj report based on new government data.

  • That translates into more than 300,000 Virginia households and is up from 7.8% over the previous period.
  • Yes, but: Virginia is faring better than the national average, where 11.2% of all households don't reliably have enough to eat.

Worth noting: Food insecurity means that at times during the year, a given household couldn't get enough food for one or more of its members because they didn't have enough money or resources.

  • Those with "very low" food security — which is an additional 4.1% of Virginia households — eat less food or skip meals. In a house with children, the adults might go without so that the kids can eat.

What they're saying: When times are tight, it can often be "easiest" to cut back on food, says Lisa Davis, a senior vice president at Share Our Strength, an anti-poverty nonprofit.

Zoom out: Looking at just 2022, the share of U.S. households that couldn't reliably afford food rose to 12.8% from 10.2% in 2021, per new U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

  • The national economy might've looked great in 2022 by some metrics — like the low unemployment rate — but not this one.

The big picture: The disappearance of pandemic-era support programs like the child tax credit, which was used by many families with children to buy food and lowered food insecurity rates in 2021, played a role here.

  • But it's complicated. Some SNAP benefits were increased in 2022 — if they hadn't been, these numbers would likely look a lot worse, says Chloe East, an economist and visiting fellow at the Hamilton Project.
  • This is an inflation story, too. And not just in food prices, which were up more than 10% in 2022 — energy prices and rents also soared.

Zoom in: Feed More, the umbrella organization food bank that serves all of Central Virginia, says it's seen a 22% increase in need over the past 2 years.

  • "This means there are more neighbors who have never had to ask for help, while those neighbors Feed More already helps continue to face difficult challenges," Feed More says.

But, but, but: There are ways you can help, according to Feed More, including by donating your time and nonperishable food items.

  • If you're looking to give financial support, Feed More will take that, too — and now through Dec. 1 donors are matching all monetary support (up to $250,000).
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