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An advocate says the state needs to do more to address food insecurity

Robert Daly
Getty Images

A new study highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity found that Hawaiʻi is about average compared to the rest of the country.

"But that’s a pretty low bar," said Joel Berg, CEO of the nonprofit Hunger Free America.

His organization released a new study outlining the pandemic’s impact on hunger and food insecurity across the country.

"Our study found that before and during the pandemic, an average of 134,000 Hawaiʻi residents — including one in seven Hawaiʻi children — were food insecure, meaning they couldn’t afford enough food," Berg said.

He said food insecurity and hunger were prevalent prior to the pandemic.

But they got worse over the last two years due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic — on top of the rising cost of living, stagnant wages and wealth inequality.

Berg said federal relief packages approved by Congress did help.

"Over the past year, the number of Hawaiians who didn’t have enough to eat in one week period dropped by about 50%. But at the very same time, the SNAP program – what used to be called the food stamp program – nearly doubled in one month alone," he said.

"Just in September of 2021, the SNAP program is going to spend about $100 million of federal funds in Hawaiʻi," he added.

Despite the increased assistance, Berg said the state still needs to do more to address food insecurity.

"The state can raise wages, the state can increase access to federal nutrition assistance programs and make it easier for people to apply online for a wide variety of benefits. And the state can keep on the pressure on the federal government to increase this funding," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Berg said another action that would help prevent Hawaiʻi families from plunging back into poverty is the extension of the federal Child Tax Credit — part of the Biden Administration’s original Build Back Better proposal which is yet to be approved by the U.S. Senate. It passed the House on Nov. 19, 2021.

Read the full Hunger Free America report below or click here to open a new tab.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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