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About Food Insecurity in Pennsylvania

Food insecurity means not having access to reliable and nutritious meals. Since hunger and health are deeply connected, the effects of chronic hunger are profound. Those effects include increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs. Adequate access to healthy meals is also critical to child development and success in education so kids can focus in school and lead healthier, more productive lives. 

In September 2015, Governor Wolf signed an executive order establishing the Governor’s Food Security Partnership, which is comprised of the secretaries of the departments of Aging, Agriculture, Community and Economic Development, Education, Health, and Human Services. It is responsible for promoting coordination, communication, and joint planning between government programs and entities in the private sector in providing nutrition and food assistance to Pennsylvanians. 

The Governor's Food Security Partnership released Setting the Table: A Blueprint for a Hunger-Free PA in September 2016, to identify goals of providing all Pennsylvanians with access to healthy, nutritious food. Since the release of the Blueprint, the Wolf Administration has worked toward the Blueprint's goals of reducing hunger and food insecurity in Pennsylvania by:

    • Allowing easier access to benefits through the myCOMPASS PA mobile app;
    • Increasing knowledge of summer feeding programs by mailing summer feeding postcards to all SNAP recipient households with children;
    • Streamlining the SNAP application process for seniors;
    • Increasing senior enrollment in SNAP by 10 percent since 2015; 
    • Awarding school breakfast mini-grants to 228 schools to expand alternative breakfast models;
    • Making access to employment and training services easier by adding 11 SNAP training sites;
    • Distributing 7.5 million pounds of food to more than 390,000 low-income households annually through the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System;
    • Receiving an additional $11.5 million in bonus SNAP funds to improve timeliness, reduce errors, and increase access to SNAP; 
    • Growing food security programs in the Medicaid system; and
    • Educating individuals and families on the necessary nutrition needed for a healthy life.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1.53 million Pennsylvanians experienced chronic hunger every day, including 478,500 older Pennsylvanians and about 437,000 children. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of every five Pennsylvania workers has now filed for assistance, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Feeding Pennsylvania member food banks are  reporting significant increase in the need for food assistance in their communities, with an average 65 percent increase in demand.  

Causes of Increased Food Insecurity for Individuals

Pennsylvania’s strong COVID-19 mitigation efforts have left hundreds of thousands out of work, as non-life sustaining businesses closed their doors for the health of Pennsylvania as a whole.

Lack of Awareness of Existing Resources
Federal, state, and local programs may not be fully utilized.

Difficulty Finding Resource Information
Information is siloed and can be hard to find, especially for people who may have never had to access community supports before.

Existing Benefit Shortcomings
Usual supports may not be able to stretch far enough to cover the increased need.

Job Loss
More than 1.6 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation, widening the base of need across the state.

Older adults, those who are immunocompromised, those struggling with mental health or substance-use disorders, and families with infants and toddlers may have a harder time getting food as social distancing results in seclusion. 

Stay-at-home orders and recommendation that individuals wear masks while in public complicate normal transportation, especially public transportation. Lack of Commonwealth-wide broadband access limits use of online ordering and delivery services for groceries, medicine, and other necessities, makes it harder for local businesses to adapt to offer online services, and hinders online searches for and applications for assistance. 

Supply Chain Challenges
The food supply chain is struggling to balance supply and demand challenges that arise with a shifting marketplace, resulting in supply challenges for grocery stores and the charitable food system. 

Socioeconomic Status
A combination of social, financial, educational, and geographic barriers make it harder than usual for those in need to access food.

There is also an entirely new set of Pennsylvanians finding themselves in need of emergency food resources for the first time.