Hunger, Nutrition, and Food Insecurity

Hunger and inadequate nutrition have detrimental effects on children’s health, both immediate and lifelong. Lack of regular good quality food can affect children’s growth, learning, and development. Inadequate nutrition can be particularly harmful to young children whose need for calories and nutrients is critical to their healthy development. Food insecurity and hunger are epidemic in the U.S. and Vermont is not immune. According to the Food Research and Action Center, food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Hunger is the recurrent and involuntary lack of access to sufficient food due to poverty and constrained resources, which can lead to malnutrition over time.(16)

In 2003, 36.3 million people nationwide lived in households experiencing food insecurity. In Vermont, 21,000 children under age eighteen live in households considered food insecure.(17) Poverty and low-income are strong predictors of hunger and food insecurity. Results of the Census Bureau’s Hunger Survey show that “households with children experience food insecurity at more than double the rate of households without children.”(18) Despite Vermont’s effective antihunger programs, many struggling households do not have access to these programs.(19)

Food Stamps:
One example is the exclusion of households from participation in the food stamp program in Vermont. Over 24,000 Vermont children live in households that are potentially eligible for food stamp benefits and, of that group, 7,200 children (nearly 30 percent) are not receiving benefits. Of the more than 83,000 potentially eligible Vermonters of all ages, almost 40,000 are not receiving food stamp benefits. The federal government has offered states a wide range of federal options to better reach eligible households. Vermont has implemented some, but not all, of the options. (20)

School Meals:
Another example is the lack of children’s access to school meals in schools that do not offer the breakfast and/or lunch meals program. Currently, out of 323 Vermont public schools, 30 schools are without a school breakfast program, 17 schools have neither a lunch or breakfast program, and 1 school has only a breakfast program, no lunch. (21) Lack of access to meal programs increases substantially during the summer months when schools are not in session. In 2004, only 25 percent of Vermont children eligible for free or reduced school meals during the school year attended summer food service programs. Vermont’s rural communities in particular face unique barriers to offering summer food programs, including a lack of central meal sites and public transportation.

Key Facts

* Between 2001 and 2003, 8.9% of Vermont households suffered from “food insecurity.” Of these, 3.0% had greater deprivation and were considered “food insecure, with hunger.” These numbers are not significantly changed from the 2000 to 2002 percentages of 9.0% and 2.4%. (22)
* From 2000 to 2002, the percent of Vermont children living in food insecure homes was 16.5%. (23)
* A critical number of Vermont households are not receiving food stamp benefits. Vermont can do more to ensure access.
* USDA research indicates that children who participate in school meals receive far more nutrients than those children who do not participate. Children who eat school breakfast eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume less saturated fat than those who don’t eat breakfast or have breakfast at home.
* School breakfast has repeatedly been shown to reduce problem behaviors and improve children’s focus and academic performance. Research also shows that children who eat close to the time of learning have better retention and problem-solving skills and score higher on tests.

Recommendations

* Create a Commission on Hunger and the Food Safety Net. The Commission would review the extent and effect of hunger and the ability of local communities to respond, including how to maximize the federal nutrition programs, identify gaps in the food pantry safety net, and make recommendations on how communities can address hunger and malnutrition locally. The Commission could also review the Vermont information that is collected on hunger, nutrition, and the food safety net, determine any gaps in data collection, and make that information available to policy makers and the public.
* Explore ways to make better use of the federal options to reach food stamp eligible households. Options still available to Vermont include:
Use of a special deduction for homeless Vermonters to help simplify paperwork and maximize benefits for this vulnerable population.
Transitional benefits for Vermonters leaving the Reach Up program to ease the transition to self-sufficiency. Exclusion of child support income in calculating food stamp program eligibility.
More flexible rules for calculating utility expenses with the food stamp programs standard utility allowance.
* Support the expansion of low-cost TANF-funded services, such as informational fliers or outreach brochures, to expand TANF-related categorical eligibility for the food stamp program in Vermont.
* Provide school breakfast and lunch in all Vermont schools.
* Expand direct certification for eligibility for free meals by including participation in TANF.
* Increase access to affordable summer enrichment programs for all Vermont children.
* Include meals and transportation in summer programs.

Notes:

1. Children and Poverty in Vermont, a Vermont Kids Count publication of the Vermont Children’s Forum; Challenging Poverty
2. Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office Basic Needs Budget can be found under Livable Income at:www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/Reports%20by%20Subject.htm.
3. Vermont Job Gap Study, Phase 8.
4. Act 21 Research and Analysis In Support of the Livable Income Study Committee:www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/Reports/199911%20Livable%20Income%20Study.pdf
5. “Earning More, Losing Ground,” Vermont Children’s Forum, December 2004.
6. Figures and estimate courtesy of Tony Morgan, Director, Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, November 10, 2004.
7. Sheridan Bartlett, “The significance of relocation for chronically poor families in the USA,” Environment and Urbanization 9 (1): April 1997, p. 125.
8. See Youth section for discussion of housing problems faced by young adults transitioning out of state custody.
9. Vermont Housing Finance Agency analysis of Vermont Department of Taxes’ Property Transfer Tax Receipts;www.state.vt.us/tax/ propertytransferdata.shtml; courtesy of Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Housing and Wages in Vermont, Vermont Housing Council and Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign, 2005 update, p. 2.
10. Between a Rock and a Hard Place, p. 2.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), “Resources: Homeless Facts Children and Homelessness,” Burlington, Vermont;www.cotsonline.org/homeless kids.html.
14. Between a Rock and a Hard Place, p. 2, citing Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, Annual Data of Vermont’s Emergency Shelters, FY 02–04.
15. Susan Lines, “Educational disadvantage in the primary school: children living in temporary accommodation,” Support for Learning VII (1): 1992, pp. 8–13; also Janice M. Molnar, Tovah P. Klein, and William R. Rath, “Constantly compromised: The impact of homelessness on children,” Journal of Social Issues XLVI (4): 1992, pp.109–124; see also Bartlett, p. 127.
16. Source: www.frac.org/tml/hunger_in_the_us/hunger_index.html.
17. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2003.
18. Source: www.frac.org/tml/hunger¬_in_the_us/hunger_index.html, p. 2.
19. Antihunger programs in Vermont include the federal Food Stamp Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the Summer Food Service Program, the Child & Adult Care Food Program, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
20. Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, 2005; www.vtnohunger.org/.
21. Ibid.
22. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2003.
23. Ibid.

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