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Rural residents on SNAP lack access to healthy foods

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 7:33 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity impacted about 10% of all U.S. residents. Now, experts estimate that number has at least doubled since the pandemic began.

For many rural residents with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, it’s difficult to find and afford healthy foods. Since most rural parishes in Northeast Louisiana lack access to grocery stores and healthy fresh foods, it forces SNAP recipients to buy food at places like gas stations and dollar stores.

The Executive Director of the Northeast Louisiana Food Bank, Jean Toth, said food insecurity is a problem in our region.

“So between the food bank and all of our partner agencies, we service about 30,000 people every month,” said Toth.

Toth said the demand for help has grown throughout the pandemic.

“Of course over the last year, the need has really spiked. So, because not only were we serving people affected by the pandemic but also the tornados, the hurricane, the ice storm,” said Toth.

Before COVID-19, nationwide food stamps had a maximum daily meal benefit of $1.86 for a family of four. The Louisiana Department of Family and Children Services said $24.60 a day for food is not enough for a family of four to eat healthy.

“So there’s challenges just in the cost of healthier eating options, and with the limited amount of benefits that households receive especially if they rely solely on snap benefits, it’s really hard for them to make healthy and subconscious choices,” said Howard.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in Ouachita Parish, 19% of all residents lack adequate access to food, and 14% of adults don’t live near a grocery store.

In Tensas Parish, six stores accept SNAP benefits, but only one grocery store sells fresh fruit and vegetables. 26% of all residents lack adequate access to food and 17% of adults don’t live near a grocery store.

Shavana Howard said although she doesn’t know exactly what her clients spend their SNAP benefits on, she said they’ve told her it’s difficult.

“Some have said it’s really hard to be able to afford the healthier fruits and vegetables, as well as a good quality of meat to provide for them and their families,” said Howard.

The Northeast Louisiana Food Bank said it’s important to eat healthy in order to avoid illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, but people with limited income will buy cheaper unhealthy foods to make the money last.

“If you were going grocery shopping on a limited budget, that you would want to get the most quantity of food for your dollar, and that’s not always going to be the healthiest food,” said Toth.

However, Howard said one solution is buying seeds to grow healthy produce at home. She said the state is also working with companies, like Walmart, to deliver food to people living more 10 miles from a grocery store. The main goal is to bridge the great heal divide and improve the quality of life in Northeast Louisiana.

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