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Rate of food insecure Hoosiers increases during COVID-19

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According to Feeding America, Hoosiers are more likely to face hunger than the national average. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of Hoosier families who are food insecure has increased, meaning more families across Indiana are in need now more than ever. 

Food insecurity means that at some point during the month, an individual is unsure of where their next meal is coming from. It also means that even if an individual receives food subsidies from programs such as the Supplemental Food and Nutrition Program (SNAP) or Women, Infant and Children (WIC) benefits, they could run out of these benefits before the end of the month. When they run out, the individual may need to utilize a food bank or a congregate meal location such as a soup kitchen, or they face the threat of going hungry. 

There are many factors that cause food insecurity, including inconsistent employment hours, low wages and unsafe living circumstances that leave people without adequate housing or refrigeration to properly store foods. At CareSource, we explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has made the cause of hunger relief even more vital and how people can help, as food insecurity continues to influence Indiana citizens’ social determinants of health. 

COVID-19 has increased the rate of families who are food insecure.

According to Feeding America, prior to COVID-19, food insecurity was at the lowest point since the Great Recession. Thirty-seven million people, including 11 million children, were food insecure. Since March 2020, when COVID-19 caused many states to close schools, businesses and social service agencies, there are now more than 54 million people, including 18 million children, experiencing food insecurity. Additionally, Feeding Indiana’s Hungry estimates food insecurity will rise by 40% among Indiana residents in 2020 due to COVID-19. One in five Hoosiers will be at risk of hunger, including 414,500 children. 

Food insecurity is also a significant factor for children and the elderly.

Many children rely on food subsidy programs delivered through school systems that do not operate year-round. As we have experienced since March 2020, these programs have left a gap for many children who are now being homeschooled. These children may also lack proper transportation to utilize breakfast and lunch programs due to COVID-19. Additionally, the virus poses serious health risks to the elderly population. Since the pandemic began, seniors have been asked to stay indoors, making it more difficult to access nutritious food, per a Feeding America article. 

Food is a basic need. Much like housing and clothing, many basic needs have been elevated as important because of COVID-19.

We believe COVID-19 highlighted the number of individuals in our communities who are truly living paycheck to paycheck and are in need of community resources when a crisis strikes. As unemployment skyrocketed during the pandemic and there were delays in getting resources to lower income working families, families found themselves turning to food banks to survive for the first time.

Help the cause: Become aware, vote and get involved. 

There are three key actions people can take to make a positive impact on hunger and other social and civic issues. First, become aware of the needs of the community. Once a person has a basic understanding of these needs, the second most impactful action that a person can take is to vote for elected officials that are interested in changing policy to address the issues. And finally, commit yourself to getting involved. Find a cause you care about, like child hunger or senior meal programs and donate or volunteer to these causes.

CareSource’s Life Services program addresses crucial social determinants of health such as food insecurity. The Life Services strategy includes a robust hunger initiative focused on three aspects of hunger issues — food access, food insecurity and food education. We believe that many of the hunger issues that individuals face are symptoms of bigger root issues such as poverty, disparity, racism and discrimination. We are committed to assisting our members and providing them with greater access for socioeconomic needs, physical and clinical needs and behavioral health needs. Visit caresource.com to find community-based resources to assist with food insecurity issues or to connect with a case manager or Life Coach who can help.

Steve Smitherman is CareSource Indiana market president. 

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