Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland has announced the release of Map the Meal Gap 2021, which shows household budgets were seeing further strain despite improvements in overall food insecurity rates before the pandemic.

Map the Meal Gap is the only study that provides local-level estimates of food insecurity and food costs across the United States and has been produced by Feeding America for the last 11 years, according to a news release. In the organization’s service area, the food insecurity rate is 14.7 percent.

This year’s study, which provides data for 2019, shows a widening gap for households struggling to get by ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Hardin County, a person who is food insecure is estimated to need an additional $39.61 per month to buy just enough food to meet their needs as of 2019. In addition, the study finds 31 percent of Kentucky residents who live in food-insecure households likely are ineligible for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs, further underscoring the importance of food banks such as Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland.

“The Map the Meal Gap study highlights what we see every day – so many families throughout our service area continually face hunger,” said Jamie Size­more, FAKH executive director in the release. “And as this study was completed pre-pandemic, we know that the food insecurity rates in actuality are even higher, especially among families with school-age children.”

Food insecurity is a measure defined by the USDA as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap continued to show all 3,142 counties and county equivalents as well as 436 congressional districts in all 50 states are home to people facing hunger.

Other key findings of the 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap include:

• Overall food insecurity in FAKH’s service area ranges from 11.3 percent of the population in Nelson County up to 19.4 percent in Fulton County.

• Number of food insecure people in FAKH’s service area is 14.7 percent of the population, or 1 in 7 people.

• Number of food insecure children in Feeding America’s service area is 18.6 percent, or 1 in 5 children.

• In Hardin County, 12.6 percent of the population is food insecure. The childhood food insecurity rate is 15.8 percent.

• In Kentucky, 14.4 percent of the population is food insecure. The childhood food insecurity rate is 17.9 percent.

“As the only study to provide local-level food insecurity data, Map the Meal Gap is a critical tool as we work to understand the root causes of hunger,” said Tom Summerfelt, vice president of research at Feeding America. “While the economic crisis unfolded last year in the wake of the pandemic, Map the Meal Gap provided the basis for our projections analysis that helped the Feeding America network plan an effective response and work more effectively with partners to serve our neighbors in need.”

Through a network of more than 230 partner agencies in 42 counties in Kentucky, Feeding America distributes more than 19 million pounds of food each year to nearly a quarter of a million people facing hunger. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, it has distributed nearly 22 million pounds of food, the equivalent of more than 18 million meals. FAKH is a member of Feeding America’s hunger-relief network comprised of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that, together, provide food assistance to more than 40 million people in the U.S. struggling with hunger.

“Hunger continues to be an issue in our service area and throughout the country,” Sizemore said. “Though our partner agencies in Hardin County have provided incredible service to their neighbors in need, especially during this pandemic, we know that there still is work to be done to help provide for the food insecure.”

Map the Meal Gap uses the most recent data from USDA, the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by NielsenIQ, a global measurement and data analytics company. The study is supported by Conagra Brands Foundation and NielsenIQ.

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