A supermarket displays stickers indicating they accept food stamps. The stamps, officially under the SNAP Program name, are among the most common and popular means of alleviating hunger among American families. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Nearly half of residents in the United States would not have adequate knowledge of food benefits programs if they were to face hunger or food insecurity. Nearly the same percentage says they have experienced hunger in the past year, according to a new survey by hunger relief organization WhyHunger

“Inflation will have a drastic negative impact on the hunger epidemic, particularly in rural communities,” said Noreen Springstead, executive director at WhyHunger, in an interview with the Daily Yonder. “Americans are already starting to feel the strain due to higher gas prices and groceries, and this will push even more individuals towards food insecurity in the year ahead.”

According to the survey, 49% of Americans know someone who has experienced hunger in the past year. In addition, 17% say their household experienced food insecurity for the first time during the pandemic, 10% say their household experienced food insecurity at the same level compared to before the pandemic, and 11% say their household experienced food insecurity at a heightened level compared to before the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, 46% of Americans say if they were to face hunger or food insecurity they would not have adequate knowledge of food assistance programs to seek help. Just over half of Americans say they contribute annually to hunger related charities and relief efforts.  

Springstead said that historically, rural communities face higher rates of hunger and poverty, as well as limited access to healthy food. “This is due to factors including the lack of public transportation as well as limited awareness and access to SNAP assistance and resources,” Springstead said. “Through the pandemic this issue has only grown, widening the disparity gap and making it even more difficult for rural communities to access the basic human right to nutritious food.”

As the cost of living goes up, families are forced to make impossible decisions regarding basic necessities — such as transportation, medical care, housing and food, Springstead said. “Far too often we see instances of parents skipping meals so their kids can eat or lunch boxes filled with less nutritious, cheaper food as families struggle to make ends meet,” she said.  

“Much like the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we expect to see reliance on the already thinly stretched U.S. emergency feeding system continue to expand. Inflation is a reminder that lasting solutions to combat food insecurity are needed now more than ever.” 

Additionally, the survey found that half of Americans feel the U.S. government has adequate systems in place to help solve hunger domestically. Additionally, 83% say the U.S. should declare food as a basic human right.  

“Hunger is indeed a solvable problem. We need transformative solutions that strike at the root causes of hunger – solutions rooted in social, economic, and racial justice – so that all Americans can live a dignified life,” Springstead said in a press statement. “As we look at forming a historic White House Conference and making ending hunger a priority, it’s essential that the voices of individuals experiencing hunger and poverty are represented as an integral part of the decision-making process and overarching strategy.”

The survey comes after the announcement of funding for a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger & Health, which would explore challenges within the current food system and take a holistic governmental approach to ending hunger and combatting nutrition insecurity in America by 2030.

The survey was conducted online using Survey Monkey among a national sample of 1,060 adults spanning U.S. geographic regions and income levels. The survey sample was weighted to reflect the gender distribution and the age distribution across the 18-44 and 45+ age brackets in U.S. census data.

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