Food insecurity plagues more than 14 percent of New York State’s residents. These are children who go to bed hungry, senior citizens who have to decide between buying groceries and purchasing medication, and parents who do without so their children can have enough to eat.
Nutrition assistance programs help to alleviate hunger but are underutilized for a number of reasons, including a lack of understanding about how they work, unfamiliarity with program eligibility, lack of access, and difficulty filling out program applications.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is our nation’s safety net for people who are most vulnerable to hunger. Approximately 3 million state residents receive SNAP benefits monthly. That number may sound large, but according to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, nearly one in four potentially eligible New Yorkers is not receiving SNAP benefits.
Other nutrition assistance programs, including the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Meals Program and the National School Lunch Program, are also underutilized.
During the 2014-2015 school year, more than 1.5 million New York State public school students qualified to eat free or reduced-price school meals. On average, 1,063,350 low-income children ate free or reduced-price lunch each day, while only 442,516 of those children participated in breakfast.
Less than one-third of the children who rely on school meals in New York State have access to summer nutrition. In many upstate communities, far fewer youth have access to summer meals.
Adults over age 60 make up a large sector of the population eligible for, but underutilizing, nutrition assistance programs. According to the New York State Office for the Aging, one in four older adults living at home is nutritionally at risk.
Other often overlooked populations at risk of hunger include disabled persons, veterans and college students.
It is vital that decision makers recognize the reality of hunger and support nutrition assistance programs so that individuals and communities can receive these much needed benefits.