National Trends in Food Insecurity and Congregation-Based Food Provision Between 1998 and 2012

Published in: Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Volume 58, Issue 3, pages 265-280 (April 2019). doi: 10.1080/03670244.2019.1598979

Posted on RAND.org on October 15, 2019

by Karen Rocío Flórez, Brad Fulton, Kathryn Pitkin Derose

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Food insecurity has been a persistent problem in the U.S., and yet over the past three decades, federally funded food programs have become more restrictive. Scholars and policymakers have inquired whether the nonprofit sector is increasing its food provision activities to address this unmet need. This study analyzes data from the U.S. Census and a nationally representative survey of religious congregations in the U.S. to examine trends in food insecurity and congregation-based food provision between 1998 and 2012. The objective of the study is to investigate the extent to which congregation-based food provision fluctuated with national food insecurity prevalence for the overall population, and for subgroups vulnerable to this condition. Results show an over-time correspondence between the prevalence of food-insecure households and the prevalence of congregations that provide food. Parallel patterns are observed between food insecurity in disproportionately affected subpopulations (e.g., African-Americans and immigrants) and food provision in the congregations likely to serve those households. These findings indicate that congregations are helping meet the needs of food-insecure households. However, research suggests that congregations and nonprofits are not an adequate substitute for federally funded programs. Policy recommendations include expanding access to federally funded programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to more immigrants and other groups vulnerable to food insecurity, as well as providing more systematic financial or federal support and quality control of congregation-based efforts.

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