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May 16, 2024

CT’s ‘food insecure’ population rose by 90K in 2022, report finds

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Emil Danailov, a volunteer and customer of the Plymouth Community Food Pantry, stocks the pantry shelves.

In a state that ranks among the top 10 wealthiest, nearly half a million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

One in eight Connecticut residents experienced “food insecurity” in 2022, rising from one in 10 in 2021, according to the latest annual “Map the Meal Gap” report from hunger-relief organization Feeding America. 

In that time frame, the number of people considered food insecure in the state rose by 90,000 to 470,000.

Funding the unmet need for food assistance in Connecticut would cost over $375 million, the report estimated. The state’s current annual budget allocates $850,000 to the Connecticut Nutrition Assistance Program, CT-NAP. 

“We definitely have a ways to go here,” Jason Jakubowski, president of Connecticut Foodshare, said at a press conference announcing the findings in Hartford Wednesday. He added that Massachusetts and New York each spend over $30 million annually on their respective hunger assistance programs.

Jakubowski was joined at the podium by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who pledged, one by one, to devote millions more dollars in public funds to the food banks and food pantries that provide for residents in every district in the state. 

But that won’t happen for at least another year. A bill proposing to raise the state’s annual contribution to CT-NAP to $10 million — co-sponsored by nearly 60 members of the legislature — died without getting a public hearing during this year’s session. The General Assembly decided not to reopen budget negotiations during the second year of the biennium, meaning many bills that would have required new funding were jettisoned.

“We certainly hope to go back at this next year and I hope that we will be doing that with all these co-sponsors and more,” Eleni Kavros DeGraw, D-Avon, said Wednesday.

Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as not having enough to eat and not knowing where the next meal will come from. In 2022, food insecurity rose sharply amid elevated inflation, affecting more than 44 million Americans, according to Feeding America. 

In Connecticut, the number of hungry children rose from one in eight in 2021 to one in six in 2022. Among Black and Hispanic Connecticut residents, one in four were food-insecure in 2022.

“If one person in this state has to worry about where their food is coming from, or miss a meal so their kid doesn’t have to, that is a tragedy. If nearly half a million people are experiencing that every day, that’s a crisis,” said Christian Duborg, a food and nutrition policy analyst with the General Assembly.

Larry Chiucarello, director of the Plymouth Community Food Pantry in Terryville, said between January 2020 and March 2024 the number of customers at the food pantry grew 136% while the number of households only grew 58%. “That’s not as much of an increase, which tells you there’s more people in the household, correct? Guess who they are. Children.”

During the height of COVID, Chiucarello said the pantry was full of donations. He had to add several donated appliances in order to keep the food refrigerated, which allowed the pantry to maintain about six weeks of supplies on hand. “I don’t have six weeks of food stored up anymore,” he said. “The state of Connecticut needs to step up and do more.”

Connecticut Foodshare, which supplies food to many of the state’s food pantries and meal programs, is funded mostly through private donations from individual donors. The balance of its funding comes from corporate sponsors, and the last 3% is public funding — mostly from the federal government. 

“The fact that we raise about 95% to 97% of our dollars is great, and it’s a real testament to the citizens and to the corporations here,” Jakubowski said. Still, it doesn’t come close to meeting the state’s overall need. 

Referring to an anecdote shared by one of her colleagues, about a constituent working two jobs who still had to live in a shelter and seek food assistance, Kavros DeGraw said that for some people, “There are no bootstraps that are big enough to pull yourself up by.”

“The purpose of government is to have a social safety net that catches these folks,” she said. “That is our job. We did not complete it this year, but I certainly hope that we will in the future.”

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