2019 Map the Meal Gap study shows more than 86,000 struggle with hunger

Greater percentage sinking further into poverty

The Treasure Coast continues to see small but steady population growth, but that growing population continues to include a significant portion of people who don’t have enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. A national study released today shows that persistently high food costs continue to be a factor. And St. Lucie County is one of two South Florida counties with the highest rates of food-insecurity.

Feeding America’s 2019 Map the Meal Gap study showed that 13.5 percent or 86,690 people on the Treasure Coast don’t always know where their next meal will come from. That includes 25,130 children. Statewide, 20.6 percent of the population age 17 and under is food-insecure, giving Florida the 12th-highest rate of child food-insecurity in the nation

Of all the food-insecure people on the Treasure Coast, 75 percent make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and are eligible for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. That’s an increase of 2 percentage points from the previous year’s study and 10 percentage points from the data collected in 2009 when Map the Meal Gap began. It shows that more people are more deeply entrenched in poverty and underlines the significance of the federal social safety net for the Treasure Coast.

“Each day, we see these factors bear out as food-insecure people look to Treasure Coast Food Bank for help, not only with food but with assistance programs,” said Judith Cruz, President and CEO of Treasure Coast Food Bank. “We see the disconnect between this economy and the working poor who often work more than one job but because of low wages and high costs, still need help to feed themselves and their families. These factors also show how vitally important the federal safety net programs are to helping people have enough to eat.”

Each county within Treasure Coast Food Bank’s service area wrestles with its own factors contributing to food-insecurity. Martin and Indian River county residents struggle with food costs of $3.53 and $3.67 per meal respectively, each significantly higher than the state average of $3.22 per meal and the national average of $3.02. Okeechobee’s small rural population of 40,228 has a high percentage at 13.6 percent who are food-insecure. And a great majority – 84 percent – qualifies for federal assistance.

But St. Lucie County, with a population almost equaling that of Martin and Indian River counties combined, stands out in the latest report. It is one of only two counties in all of South and Central Florida with food-insecurity rates higher than 14.5 percent. More than 44,000 people in St. Lucie County alone don’t have enough food for a healthy life.

The annual study is in its 9th year, and nearly a decade after the first data was collected in the depths of the Great Recession, food-insecurity remains slightly above the pre-recession levels. During that time, the number of individuals on the Treasure Coast who qualify for SNAP has risen from 62 percent to 72 percent, a clear indication that, despite very low unemployment rates, more people earn less.

“We know it’s absolutely essential that people have access to healthy, nutritious food. What’s just as essential is access to job training and better jobs so that people can move beyond working poor wages,” Cruz said. “That’s the reason Treasure Coast Food Bank has created job training programs such as our Green Apron Culinary Program to train people for employment that earns better wages.”

Map the Meal Gap 2019 uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen, a global provider of information and insights. The study is supported by The Howard G. Buffett FoundationConagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

Dr. Craig Gundersen, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group is the lead researcher of Map the Meal Gap 2019.

The study’s findings underscore the depth of need that remains in communities on the Treasure Coast and across the U.S., despite national measures from the USDA that indicate overall improvement. 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. An interactive map is available that allows viewers to explore the issue of hunger on the Treasure Coast and across the country. A link to the map can be found under Hunger Statistics at stophunger.org.

Map the Meal Gap 2019 was released today, revealing that 86,690 Treasure Coast people, including 25,130 children  don’t have enough food.

The national study by Feeding America shows food-insecurity in every state, county, and congressional district.

For the four counties served by Treasure Coast Food Bank, the study revealed:

  • 28 percent of those do NOT qualify for federal nutrition programs and must rely on charitable food assistance.
  • High food costs contribute to the problem – average cost on the Treasure Coast is $3.26 per meal compared with a $3.02 national average. Martin and Indian River counties are significantly higher than that average.
  • St. Lucie County has one of the highest rates of food-insecurity in all of South and Central Florida at 14.8 percent.
  • 9 years after the first Map the Meal Gap study, the most significant change on the Treasure Coast is the continual rise in people who qualify for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs – those in need are falling deeper into poverty.

Local Map the Meal Gap findings are available here.

Findings for children can be found available here.