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Vicki B. Escarra Headshot

Latino Children in America are More Likely to be Hungry

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For weeks I've been writing about the need for a strong child nutrition bill to tackle our nation's child hunger problem and provide better nutrition to the one in four children struggling with hunger. In the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am soberly reminded that child hunger is even more prevalent among Latino households -- one in three Latino children is food insecure.

Nearly 30 percent of Latino children and their families receive assistance from Feeding America food banks each year. To better understand the causes and consequences of hunger among Latino households, Feeding America and the Urban Institute recently collaborated to evaluate Latino families' experience with emergency food assistance and federal nutrition programs. Key findings of the report , sponsored by ConAgra Foods Foundation, not only confirm that Latino families struggle with hunger at higher rates, the also shows that they experience and respond to hunger differently than African American and Caucasian families.

Latino families are much less likely to participate in the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), the cornerstone of federal food assistance programs. About 41 percent of Latino families receive SNAP benefits, compared to 56 percent of African American and 61 percent of Caucasian families. Since SNAP also benefits local economies, low program participation also causes low-income Latino communities to lose out on the economic impact that SNAP dollars provide.

While some eligible families choose not to participate in SNAP, the report found that many Latino families have had no contact with the program, suggesting they may not be aware of their eligibility for the program. About 41 percent of Latino families reported no contact with SNAP, compared with 26 percent of African American and 15 percent of Caucasian families.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made maximizing SNAP participation a priority. To combat low SNAP participation rates among Latino households, USDA has undertaken efforts to improve outreach through partnerships with trusted local community organizations such as food banks and food pantries, churches and social centers. USDA has also invested in outreach material translation and grants that support staff dedicated to SNAP outreach. Stronger public-private collaboration and creative community engagement has helped connect more vulnerable people with resources to help feed their children.

Thanks to partnerships with both USDA and private donors, Feeding America food banks are establishing their own SNAP outreach programs to ensure that families seeking emergency food assistance from their agencies are aware of the federal food assistance benefits available to them. Many offer programs and services that guide clients through the application process, and in some cases, can confirm eligibility on site.

The lower participation rates in SNAP among Latino households and the corresponding higher rates of hunger among Latino children deeply underscores the effectiveness of the SNAP program in safeguarding families from hunger. Continued emphasis on outreach will better connect Latino families and communities with the program. The upcoming farm bill presents an opportunity for Congress and the Administration to examine other participation barriers and implement solutions to improve access to the program among underserved households.

It is shameful that a third of Latino children should have to worry about where they'll get their next meal. To make sure children have access to the food they need both at home and at school, it is imperative that Congress pass a strong child nutrition bill this year. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) would better connect eligible low-income children with free school meals and provide supper to children in at-risk afterschool programs.

For the full report, please visit http://feedingamerica.org/SiteFiles/pdf/hispanic-execsumm.pdf .