Sebastian County is one of six counties selected from more than 3,000 U.S. counties as part of a Walton Family Foundation-funded project to study food insecurity. The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (May 14) will get a review of an upcoming June “data walk” designed to highlight area food insecurity issues.
The June event is the result of an initial effort by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute and Fort Smith-based Antioch for Youth and Family to look at the impact of state legislation to tie food stamps (federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Medicaid access to work and other new requirements. There was a Feb. 21 meeting in Fort Smith in which food insecurity and its underlying issues were discussed.
According to Russell Gibson, director of information and technology services for the city of Fort Smith, the Urban Institute was pleased with the interest expressed by the community addressing the issue at the February meeting. Gibson was contacted by Ken Kupchick on behalf of Antioch to use the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS) to gather data on the issue.
“The Urban Institute team was impressed by our city, especially the library, the friendly nature of the people they met and the candid discussions during the focus groups. They expressed an interest in returning someday,” Gibson noted in a memo to City Administrator Carl Geffken.
The project researches connections between food insecurity and other socio-economic factors in a region. Initial work has been completed on gathering data on food insecurity and the economic health of all U.S. counties. The research gathers best practices to lessen food insecurity, and unique regional data to help guide policy.
“We are visiting counties throughout the U.S. to share this data on food insecurity and factors that drive it – and get community input on ideas for new strategies to address food insecurity more effectively,” according to project literature.
The June Fort Smith visit will include a “community data walk” between 5:30 and 7 p.m., June 3, in the meeting rooms at the Fort Smith Riverfront Amphitheater. A meal will be provided, but the Monday event is by invitation only. Gibson noted in his memo that the data walk is an “interactive presentation sharing data that the Urban Institute team collected about food insecurity, housing costs, health indicators, and other indicators of economic well-being.” The Urban Institute visit to Fort Smith will also include focus group meetings with teens and adults.
Kupchick told Talk Business & Politics food insecurity is a complex issue that includes access to food, exercise, housing affordability, employment, credit scores, medical access and education access.
“The situation for any struggling individual or family is unique and probably complex, the same can be said for any community, too. However, there is commonality and many of us do not realize the extent to which multiple problems intersect. This pilot is about sharing reactions to data and building discussions about what the future could look like and what needs to change to get there,” Kupchick said.
The Feeding America network estimated that 1 in 8 Americans in 2017 was food insecure, or about 40 million Americans. Of that, an estimated 12 million were children. The network also notes that 75% of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are in rural areas. A September 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that remaining 11.8% of U.S. households – around 15 million households – were food insecure in 2017. The USDA defines low and very low food security as households that “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.”