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Federal data shows nearly 11% of children experienced food insecurity before pandemic

WASHINGTON — Newly released federal data shows food insecurity affects 15 million Americans.

Some nonprofits say food insecurity soared in 2020 and the CDC reports this crisis is linked to chronic health problems in children.

Food & Friends is a community-based organization delivering more than 4,000 medically tailored meals and groceries daily in Washington D.C. Their services free for adults and children living with serious illnesses.

DC Food Policy Director, Ona Balkus, said groups like Food & Friends are lifelines for children and families coping with food insecurity.

“I think it’s important to underscore that these nonprofits are doing important work, but we can’t rely on them as the solution to the problem,” said Balkus.

New CDC data shows almost 11 percent of kids nationwide were food insecure from 2019 to 2020 with Hispanic and Black children experiencing higher levels compared to white children.

“With children their bodies are growing quickly. They’re going to school, and we want them to be able to learn and play and focus and when you’re hungry, it’s really hard to do those things,” said Balkus.

Balkus said emergency relief programs like universal free school meals and Pandemic EBT which gave parents cash to buy groceries helped families in need during the pandemic.

She wants Congress to make those programs permanent.

“If these programs aren’t extended, we are facing a hunger cliff we are going to see a lot more families fall into food insecurity,” she said. “Even though we’re now are back in school, it’s more important now than ever to make sure kids and families don’t have to go through red tape to get a meal at school.”

But some Republicans disagree.

Senator Rick Scott said the focus should be on more employment opportunities for families.

“The biggest help we can do is get them a job. Get them independence so they don’t have to be dependent on government. Nobody wants to be dependent on government,” said Scott.

Balkus says she’s like to see the federal and more local governments prioritizing new grocery stores and healthy food options to neighborhoods that need it.