How Transportation Can Help Solve Food Insecurity

Zack Worsham

In one of America’s best food cities, many Philadelphians are living in areas with little or no access to groceries and fresh foods — areas dubbed “food deserts.” And while the hunger rate has decreased across the country, the national average hovers around 12%, and a report published last year stated that the number of people living with food insecurity in Philadelphia increased by 22%. In response to these findings, Philabundance’s executive director, Glenn Bergman, shared that the city needs more than just food, but also better coordination to help people where they are, including access to healthcare, and other social services.

If you’re living in a food desert, your only option to access better food is to go where you can find it. But according to Feeding America, 67% of the households served in their network have to face the hard choice between paying for food or paying for transportation. Food banks are designed to help distribute food to those in need, but frequently the people who need access the most face the biggest accessibility challenges. What if these households don’t have a way to get to the food bank? If your financial situation is forcing you to choose between eating or getting a ride, then you’re back at square one. Expanding transportation as a social service, providing rides to food banks, or delivering healthy meals to homes in need can help curb food insecurity.

While many hunger organizations that are passionate about food insecurity are headquartered in larger cities like Philadelphia, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for people also living in rural America. People living in rural America facing food insecurity probably face the issue most acutely: 75% of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity, and 86% of the counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity are found in rural areas. When food banks are possibly hours away, leveraging transportation to help people access the food bank or have a meal delivered can make a world of difference, especially for growing children who need access to healthy food the most.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget the connection between rural health challenges and our growing aging population. According to the HHS Rural Task Force Report, “More than half of the 65 million Americans living in rural areas are over the age of 50. Elders in rural areas (about a quarter of all elders) are more likely to reside alone, near or at the poverty level, and suffer from a chronic condition or physical disability.” These rural demographics among our aging population strongly influence how food insecurity is impacting seniors. A new study shows that food insecurity is now a problem for one in 10 Medicare enrollees 65 years of age and older. Combine that with the fact the Medicare enrollment has nearly doubled over the last decade, and you’ll quickly understand why food insecurity is becoming a major healthcare concern and is gaining the attention of health plans, Medicare, and Medicaid officials beginning to address this issue. For 2019, there was a 22% increase in transportation as a benefit in Medicare Advantage plans, and that number increased to 33% for 2020. Transportation as a benefit can help make sure that seniors who are dependent on the assistance of others can access healthy food when and where they need it.

In a country where we waste 30-40% of our overall food supply, leveraging transportation to ensure no one goes hungry is a no-brainer that helps people access food right where they are.

If you’re located in Philadelphia and want to find out how you can fight against hunger this holiday season, be sure to check out the following resources:

Located in other areas around the country? Be sure to check out these resources:

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