May 062011

By Tammy Gray-Searles —

Navajo County has the third highest rate of food insecurity among Arizona counties, according to a recent report by the Arizona Association of Food Banks.

Navajo County’s food insecurity rate is 24.5 percent. That ranks below only Apache County at 28.5 percent and Yuma County at 27.9 percent. Percentages for other counties across the state include Coconino, 17.3, Greenlee, 23.4, Maricopa, 16.2, Mohave, 19.1, Pima, 17, Pinal, 18.9, and Yavapai, 17.5. The average for all of Arizona is 17.4 percent.

In Navajo County, a total of 27,110 people are considered “food insecure.” The report defines food insecurity as “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, or a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” Food insecurity is also described as “reflecting a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.”

Of those considered food insecure in Navajo County, the report estimates that 74 percent fall below the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) threshold of 185 percent of the poverty rate. This means that approximately 26 percent of food insecure individuals in Navajo County have an income above the SNAP limit of 185 percent of the federal poverty rate, making them ineligible for food stamps.

For a household of one person, the federal poverty rate is $10,830 and the 185 percent SNAP rate is $20,036. For a household of four, the federal poverty rate is $22,050 and the federal poverty rate is $40,793.

According to the report, an additional $11,090,330 would have been necessary in 2009 to prevent food insecurity needs in Navajo County. The estimate is based on a cost of $2.45 per meal. Across the state, an additional $447 million would have been necessary to meet all food needs.

The report notes that statewide, the largest percentage of meals for the working poor were purchased by the individuals themselves. It notes that 43 percent of meals were provided by the individuals, 35 percent were provided through public assistance programs, five percent through private programs and 17 percent were considered “missing meals.” The missed meals were calculated based on an average of three meals per day.

According to the Arizona Association of Food Banks, food insecurity has a major impact on an area’s economy, especially when children are food insecure. The organization notes that children who experience food insecurity are sick more often, have growth and developmental delays, do not perform as well in school, and tend to have more social and behavioral problems that can last into adulthood.

The study mapping the areas of food insecurity across the state will help food banks and other organizations focus their efforts in areas where they are most needed.

“These landmark studies provide transformational information that allows Arizona food banks to direct food resources to the neediest areas of the state while being good stewards of public donations,” said St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance CEO Terry Shannon.

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