Recent data released by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, shows a 14 percent decrease in the number of Long Islanders struggling with food insecurity and hunger in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The 2017 “Map the Meal Gap” report, which provides an estimate of the number of people affected by food insecurity based upon the number of people living 200 percent below and above the national poverty level, describes a total of 81,420 Nassau residents and 88,410 Suffolk residents as being food insecure. The combined total of 169,830 people, however, only represents one-third of the number of Long Islanders visiting the 524 community-based pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food provider programs that receive 50 percent of their food from Long Island Cares. Despite the encouraging decrease, Long Island Cares reports a 19 percent increase in the number of people visiting its three satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst, and Huntington Station.
There are an additional 101,898 people who earn more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($25,100 for a family of four) who are utilizing their local pantry in an effort to manage their food budgets. These are individuals who are part of the working poor on Long Island, and are making choices based upon their expenses for other important essentials and food, and they represent two-thirds of the people we see within our network of member agencies.
Feeding America’s 2014 “Hunger in America” study found that there were 316,000 people on Long Island who struggled with food insecurity and hunger. When combining both the recent Feeding America and Long Island Cares’ figures, we determined that a total of 271,728 Long Islanders are impacted by food insecurity, which represents a 14 percent decrease from the 316,000 people described in 2014. This decrease describes 9.5 percent of the regional population that is struggling with food insecurity. You can’t rely on data that’s four years old in a time of lower unemployment and when a growing number of families are leaving Long Island for more affordable locations across the country. When people on Long Island realize that their school taxes and monthly rent will continue to increase, and local government continues to increase fees for services they begin to think about the value of staying in the region or finding a more affordable way of life.
The Map the Meal Gap data is the most current and reliable data we have to measure food insecurity, coupled with what we’re seeing at our own food pantries and within our network of member agencies. Clearly people are rejoining the workforce but not earning enough to afford the high cost of living on Long Island, along with the price of the average supermarket basket, gasoline, and health care.
It’s troubling to see an increase in the number of people utilizing our network of pantries at a time when overall numbers of food insecurity in the region are decreasing. It illustrates that families in need are experiencing greater need and visiting pantries more often just to get by. There’s still good reasons why you should support hunger relief organizations and participate in local food drives, or volunteer your time. The American economy is doing better today than last year but, that could change next year given the political uncertainties of some of our government officials and tariff wars that can lead to another recession. I believe that the reduction in food insecurity on Long Island has less to do with an improved economy, and more to do with an increase in the exodus from our region.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, August 2018