Feeding America defines food insecurity “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” According to the USDA, 38.3 million people, including 12 million children, in the United States lived in food-insecure households in 2020.

Poverty is connected to food insecurity and for many Cambria County residents is a cause of concern:

  • 2021 County Health Rankings – Cambria County ranked 62 out of 67 counties in regard to health outcomes
  • 61% of Cambria County residents fall below the SNAP benefits poverty rate
  • 6% of residents, including 22.6% of children, are considered food insecure

The City of Johnstown is designated as the poorest community in Pennsylvania:

  • 8% of workers are unemployed
  • 4% of people are living in poverty – Pennsylvania’s poverty rate is about 13%
  • Since 2015, one-third of Johnstown’s population has been rated low-income with low access to food stores
  • Farmer’s Markets rate is 0.03% per 1,000 people

For millions of American families, locally and nationally, food insecurity has become a major worry and has become a concerning Social Determinant of Health (SDOH). A lack of consistent food can lead to additional SDOHs and negatively affect more aspects of their lives.  Though the list isn’t comprehensive, Feeding America has indicated these common effects of food insecurity:

  • Serious health complications, especially when people facing hunger are forced to choose between spending money on food, medicine, or medical care.
  • Damage to a child’s ability to learn and grow
  • Difficult decisions such as choosing between paying for food, heat, electricity, rent, or transportation

Choosing between food and other necessary means of survival is an impossible decision. Though many individuals have similar experiences, there isn’t a sole cause of food insecurity.

Feeding America identified the various causes of food insecurity as:

  • Poverty, unemployment, or low income
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Chronic health conditions or lack of access to healthcare
  • Systemic racism and racial discrimination

Living in a “food desert” is one problem that millions of Americans face. Food deserts are areas where residents have difficulty finding affordable and healthy foods or live in poor, urban neighborhoods where supermarkets, farmers markets, and food pantries are scarce. With transportation also an issue, living in a food desert literally puts individuals on an island where traveling anywhere to purchase healthy food is difficult.

While food insecurity and poverty are closely related, individuals who live just above the poverty line also struggle with hunger. Oftentimes, individuals who live just above the poverty line don’t qualify for food programs that will help them make ends meet.

According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), the 2021 poverty guideline for the 48 contiguous states and D.C. for a family of four is $26,500 per year. If that same family of four utilizes the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, they will spend $887.80 per month on food or $10,653.60 per year. About 40% of the family’s income is spent on food, if they use the food plan. The family is left with only 60% for rent/mortgage, utilities, and other necessities.

Hunger and food insecurity can affect a person at any time. It is important to know who to contact if you are experiencing food insecurity.

The United Way of the Laurel Highlands serves Cambria and Somerset County residents and has a comprehensive Food Resource Guide, if you or anyone you know needs food assistance.