By Judy Goddess
We all need access to healthy food. Food insecurity, not knowing where your next meal will come from, contributes to multiple risk factors: low birth weight babies and childhood learning difficulties; and hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions in adults.
Food insecurity has been a persistent issue in San Francisco. A 2013 report by the Food Security Task Force (FSTF), found that one in four San Franciscans were considered “food insecure.” After reviewing that report, the Board of Supervisors pledged to “end hunger by 2020.” “Food is a basic human right; everyone needs access to proper nutrition to support health and well-being,” they declared.
In mid-December 2018, the FSTF issued an updated report. The new report found that rather than food insecurity lessening, more people are food insecure. In 2018, close to one in three San Franciscans are at risk of food insecurity. In other words, more San Franciscans are at risk of food insecurity today than were five years ago.
Federal poverty guidelines determine eligibility for federal nutrition assistance. These guidelines are determined on a national level and do not vary with the local cost of living. “As the cost of living in San Francisco increases and income inequality grows, this national measure of poverty becomes increasingly inadequate as an eligibility threshold for federal nutrition programs.”
In 2017, the federal poverty level for a family of three was placed at $20,420 a year. Based on the cost of housing, transportation, food and other consumer goods in San Francisco, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development has estimated that it takes three to five times the FPL to survive in San Francisco; in other words, in 2017, it took from $61,240 to $102,100 for a family of three to adequately meet its minimal basic needs.
Because the FPL is so far below what it takes to make it in San Francisco, the FSTF report focused on residents with incomes two times that level, or $40,840 for a family of three. Using those figures, 227,000 residents were considered at high risk of food insecurity. Within that group, 110,000 residents make less than $20,420 a year and are at highest risk of food insecurity.
“Because of their increased vulnerability, food and nutrition programs are especially critical for pregnant women, children, seniors, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and people who have physical and mental health conditions of all kinds. Additionally, due to concentrated poverty among these groups, transitional aged youth (18-24), people with disabilities, African Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are also at high risk for food insecurity.”
City government and local community groups have increased their efforts to address this gap. But, despite allocating an additional $48 million in city funds to expand and develop new programs and extensive fundraising by local nonprofits, the City is still far from reaching the goal set by the Board of Supervisors in 2013.
Food insecurity in the Bayview in 2018
Some basic facts about the Bayview as outlined in the 2018 Food Security Task Force report:
• 37 percent of Bayview residents (27,094 people) live on less than 200 percent of the FPL ($40,840); 19 percent (13,935 residents) live in families with incomes at or below the $20,420.
• 47 percent of Bayview children from birth to 17 years live in families with incomes less than $40,840; 32 percent live in families with incomes at or below $20,420.
• 46 percent of Bayview youth 18-24 years live in families with incomes at or below $40,840; 24 percent live in families with incomes at or below $20,420.
• 61 percent of Bayview seniors (65+) live in families with incomes at or below $40,840; 15 percent live in families with incomes at or below $20,420.
• 66 percent of Bayview adults with disabilities (ages 18-59) live in families with incomes at or below $40,840; 34 percent live in families with incomes at or below $20,420.
No one agency or organization bears sole responsibility for ensuring that San Franciscans have access to healthy food and do not go hungry. Food and nutrition programs are offered by six different departments.
Over the next several issues, I will describe the various food programs available to provide a food safety net in the Bayview. Please send questions, concerns and your tips for making it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judy Goddess, a journalist who is herself a senior, writes about issues important to seniors.
This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.