Hunger in Alaska
Hunger in America – Alaska Report
(conducted by Food Bank of Alaska and the Alaska Food Coalition)
The face of hunger is changing: Many hungry people are part of the "working poor". 60% worked for pay in the last 12 months, and 43% worked for pay in the last four weeks. Those working often face underemployment and are more likely to be part-time. Of those not working, 21% are retired, and 69% cannot work due to disability. Of those going hungry in Alaska, 32% are children under 18, and 13% seniors aged 60 and older. Additionally, 23.3% of households include at least one veteran, and 2.6% are currently serving in the military.
What was once an emergency is now chronic: 66% of Alaskans using our partner food distribution network tell us that they expect to keep needing food supply help for the foreseeable future just so they can make ends meet every month. Many clients are educated: 87% have a high school diploma or GED; 35% have education beyond high school. Additionally, 7% of households include an adult student.
Rising costs in health care create hardship for hungry Alaskans: 34% have no health insurance of any kind, including Medicaid (survey conducted before ACA implementation), and 56% of households report having unpaid medical bills. Hunger impacts health; 26% of households report at least one member with diabetes and 47% include someone with high blood pressure.
Hunger and poverty often go hand in hand: 53% of clients served have incomes that are at or below the federal poverty level ($15,510 or less for a household of two). 45% of households participate in SNAP (Food Stamps), but 26% report that their benefits last only one week each month or less. More than 67% of SNAP participants are families with children (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2021). 20% of clients not participating in SNAP believe they are not eligible. Hungry Alaskans are faced with difficult choices: A majority of client households report having to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care (56%), housing (53%), transportation (64%), and utilities (59%).
Families in need adopt coping strategies, such as eating food past the expiration date (71%), food in dented or damaged packages (57%), or receiving help from family or friends (54%).
Clients want these food items most: Protein food items like meat (54%), fresh fruits and vegetables (53%), and dairy products such as milk, cheese, or yogurt (29%). Unfortunately, 81% of Food Bank of Alaska clients report purchasing unhealthy, processed food because it was the cheapest option.
In any given week, 6,300 Alaskan households turn to the Food Bank of Alaska's network of 150 food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, and other programs for food assistance. The Food Bank added 74 additional partners in the wake of the pandemic to meet the demand. An estimated 51,900 unique households or almost 155,000 people are served annually. (Food Bank of Alaska, 2021). In 2021, Feeding Alaska distributed 11,073,479 net lbs of food, a 23% year-over-year increase from 2020.
50% of the food purchased for the food bank is now ordered from the Lower 48, an increase from the pre-COVID-19 baseline of 20-30% (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 2020). The dependency on outsourced food increases stress on the state’s food supply chain, which is already vulnerable to disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing inflation have exasperated an already dire hunger and poverty situation in Alaska.
Overall consumer prices in Anchorage were up by an annual rate of 7.5% as of April 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices were up by 11.3%. Over the past year (July 2021-July 2022), the price of groceries rose 10.8% while the prices for meat poultry, fish, and eggs increased 14.3% which is the biggest yearlong increase since 1979. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Consequently, food prices are even higher in interior and rural Alaska.
Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed unfortunate health inequities with respect to COVID-19-related recovery and resilience. Top on this list of inequities is the disparity in mitigation efforts that leave low-income minorities behind, particularly in addressing increased hunger caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising inflation.
According to Feeding America, the #3 MYTH concerning hunger is that it “is most frequently found in cities. [The fact is, however, is that] Hunger is common in rural areas—including some of the farming communities that grow America’s crops. Seventy-nine percent of the counties with the highest hunger rates in America are in rural areas. Limited access to jobs, transportation, and education makes it tough to earn a living in remote areas like rural Alaska. Some are forced to choose between paying for groceries or other essentials like heat. This is an especially difficult choice for parents during the winter, and it’s all too common.”
Proposed Boroughs and Rural Alaska Food Program