LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new federal report finds Arkansas leading the nation in food insecurity, and several groups around the Natural State are working to overcome the issue.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture study released in October noted Arkansas had the highest rate of food insecurity among U.S. states with 16.6%, or 214,140 households, experiencing food insecurity between 2020 to 2022.
Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” and the study noted some of the effects were reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns in households.
The Arkansas rate marked the biggest jump in food insecurity for all states against the previous measure, a 2.8% increase from the rate during the period from 2017 to 2019.
The study found food security in 87.2% of U.S. households, with enough food on hand to support an active and healthy life for all household members.
The security figure means, though, that 12.8% of U.S. households were food insecure at least some point during the year. That number grew from 10.2% in the 2021 study and 10.5% in the 2020 study, indicating rising rates of food insecurity.
While many in Arkansas are dealing with the hardship of food insecurity, there are also a number of people working to solve this issue.
Alexa Henning, spokesperson for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the governor has prioritized food insecurity.
“Making sure no Arkansan goes hungry, especially children, is a top concern for the Governor,” Henning said. “She signed legislation during her first session that gives students who previously qualified for reduced meals, breakfast and lunch for free.”
Henning pointed out recent initiatives by the governor to address the issue.
“The governor also recently visited the Arkansas Foodbank to commemorate September as Arkansas Rice Month where she met with members of her cabinet, the Arkansas Foodbank, and farmers to discuss efforts on reducing food insecurity,” she said.
Henning also said the governor had directed her staff to engage with stakeholders in addressing food insecurity in the state.
Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance CEO Kathy Webb believes a multi-faceted approach is needed to resolve food insecurity challenges in the state.
“As Arkansans continue to struggle with food insecurity, it’s imperative that non-profits, businesses, and elected officials come together to address this issue in a holistic way,” Webb said. “The charitable food network in Arkansas, which is made up of the state’s six Feeding America food banks and hundreds of pantries, is faced with the need to purchase more food than ever due to the expiration of pandemic-related commodity programs and the rise in food insecurity.”
Webb also pointed to the delay in federal programs as creating problems.
“Congress has not yet passed the Farm Bill, which we expected to see passed earlier this year. It has needed federal nutrition programs in it, including the commodity program and SNAP, which is the single largest anti-hunger program there is,” she explained. “We must let our Congressional delegation know that Arkansans need a strong Farm Bill.”
Webb added that low participation levels in programs like SNAP, WIC and school meal programs are also a factor, which figures in the USDA study supported. Participation levels could be raised by greater outreach, she said.