One in 8 Texas households struggles with food insecurity, a new federal study suggests. But the survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture also found food insecurity didn’t drastically increase between 2018 and 2020, when the pandemic started.
Still, it showed the state has struggled persistently with hunger more than the national average. Nationally, 10.5% of families surveyed by the USDA on average struggled to put food on the table, compared to more than 13% of Texas households.
Texas was one of nine states during that survey period that saw higher-than-average rates of food insecurity, that is, households struggling to find food. Texas was one of seven that saw increases in very low food insecurity, which means households occasionally went without food, according to the USDA.
Nationally, food insecurity dropped overall between 2018 and 2020. The report found the national rate of food insecurity in 2019 reached its lowest rate since before the Great Recession in 2007; 15 states saw significant dips in food insecurity in that timeframe, as well.
Many Texans have waited in jampacked parking lots and lines snaking for miles to get help at food banks during the pandemic. But the CEO of Feeding Texas, the nonprofit that manages food banks statewide, said there’s a bright spot in the data: Federal funding from the CARES Act and the American Recovery Plan led to a brief decrease in hunger statewide over the pandemic.
“Food insecurity didn’t increase during the pandemic, and, at certain points … it was much lower than it is normally, in large part due to the significant infusion of federal resources to fight hunger and prevent food insecurity,” Celia Cole said. “So, that, I think, is a success story.”
The spike largely leveled off in 2020, she said, due, in part, to rent relief, eviction bans and expanded food-access programs funded by federal relief.
Nationally, the number of adults going without enough food was 9.5% in April 2020, then up to 13.4% in December. By April 2021, it declined to 8%.
Still, 1 in 8 Texas households have a hard time putting food on the table. And a lot of those federal protections — like extended unemployment insurance, increased access to food stamps and eviction moratoriums — have gone away.
Jeremy Everett, executive director of Baylor University’s Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, said extended safety-net programs proved crucial for many Texans — especially in communities of color. Those groups have seen outsized rates of food insecurity in a pandemic that has also disproportionately impacted them, he said.
“Unfortunately, for Black and Hispanic households, food insecurity climbed — in some cases rather extremely,” Everett said. “People of color continue to bear the brunt of our broken social systems. They have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”
Everett said the disparity suggests “structural racism,” which is a huge hurdle to ending hunger in the U.S.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent for a third special legislative session included a priority to distribute federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan.
Both Everett and Cole hope lawmakers use that federal money to expand free or reduced-price meal programs and dole out more resources to food banks. Cole said she also hopes local governments and private charities step up to meet demand as the pandemic continues.
Last month, Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission expanded its debit-based food benefits program for families. Qualifying families have until Sept. 13 to apply for the program.