Low-Income Families in the Bay Area

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According to the Hunger Index, which tracks and documents hunger and food security levels among very low income populations in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, hunger levels dropped 6% between 2005 and 2007.

“The amount of food needed during this period of time grew, but the food assistance programs grew faster. In order to continue reducing hunger, all public and private sources must outpace the need for food, which in part is driven by population growth,” commented Cindy McCown, Senior Director of Programs and Services at Second Harvest Food Bank and a member of the research team that compiled the Hunger Index.

On the bright side, the Hunger Index indicates that a 29% increase in total food assistance provided by all sources (compared to a 15% increase in need) did reduce hunger.

The Hunger Index does not yet include the tremendous increase in demand for food assistance that was experienced in 2008. In the first 6 months of fiscal year 2008/09, the Food Bank’s Food Connection hotline alone experienced a 45% increase in the number of people calling for food. This amounted to 22,787 food referrals.

What the Hunger Index does not measure are those households above a specific poverty threshold but below self-sufficiency. The data is quite conservative, because it only reflects food security levels for individuals living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line ($42,400 for a family of four). To be self-sufficient in Santa Clara or San Mateo Counties, a family of four (with two working parents) must earn at least $77,069 a year.1

If a family of four earns $46,000 a year, they cannot cover all of their expenses, and yet they are not eligible for any government assistance (such as food stamps). Non-profit agencies are trying their best to serve individuals who fall into this category. Second Harvest, for example, provides emergency food to any individual who is hungry and needs immediate assistance.

Government agencies and non-profit organizations will surely need to re-evaluate how they collaborate so that they can best serve those who are struggling during this economic downturn. For the past year, Second Harvest has actively partnered with the county food stamp offices by conducting outreach and facilitating the completion of food stamp applications in the field.

The Hunger Index was developed by a team of researchers from Santa Clara University and executives at Second Harvest Food Bank using data collected by the USDA, UCLA, California Food Policy Advocates, and others. The full study will be released shortly.

Support public policies that improve access to food assistance

Read the 2005 Hunger Analysis of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Learn more about hunger across California and what is being done about it

1 Source: Making Ends Meet: How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Family in California? The California Budget Project, October 2007.

Published 1/14/2009


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