Dec 7, 2023 - News

San Antonio, Texas face some of highest food insecurity in the nation

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

As Texans prepare to celebrate the holidays, some San Antonians are still struggling to put food on the table.

What's happening: The San Antonio Food Bank has seen pandemic-level demand over the last year, president and CEO Eric Cooper tells Axios.

Zoom in: As home values rose, property taxes increased. That's led to soaring housing costs for both Texas homeowners and tenants, whose rent likely increased as a result, Cooper says.

By the numbers: The San Antonio Food Bank is serving anywhere from 105,000 to 120,000 people each week now, Cooper says. That's approaching the 120,000 to 160,000 people they served per week in 2020.

  • As COVID-19 vaccines came out and the economy re-opened, demand at the food bank dipped to about 90,000 people per week.
  • In 2019, the San Antonio Food Bank was feeding about 60,000 people per week, Cooper says.

The big picture: Many people seeking help from the food bank are employed parents who just don't make enough money to cover all their household bills.

What they're saying: "Rent eats first, and it takes such a big bite of a household budget," Cooper tells Axios.

Zoom out: On average, 15.5% of Texas households were food insecure between 2020 and 2022, per a recent federal report — the highest percentage of any state except Arkansas.

  • That's compared to 11.2% of American households over the same period.
Share of households that are food insecure
Data: USDA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

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

State of play: The economy might've looked great in 2022 by some metrics, like the low unemployment rate, but not this one.

  • "The economy just feels like it's fluttering a little bit," Cooper says.
  • Food insecurity spiked to a level not seen since the U.S. economy was slowly recovering from the financial crisis in 2007-08, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

Context: 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.

Plus: 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.

  • "If you don't pay the rent or your mortgage, you don't have a place to live. If you don't put gas in the car, you can't get to work," Davis tells Axios.
  • "Food is the place that folks turn when they have to tighten the belt even more."

How to help: You can donate to or volunteer at the San Antonio Food Bank, Meals on Wheels San Antonio or Community First Food Pantries.

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