Food insecurity affects children at a higher rate than other groups, according to a study being highlighted by a statewide charitable food distributor.

According to the 2019 Map the Meal Gap report, put together by Feeding America, 15.9% of children in Vermont are food insecure, compared to 11.9% of Vermonters in general.

“One of the big complicating factors is Vermont families on the brink of balancing their monthly budgets have competing expenses,” said Nicole Whalen, director of communications and public affairs for Vermont Foodbank, on Friday. When families have to pick between buying food, paying rent or meeting other financial obligations, they often make do with less food.

Vermont Foodbank is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to hunger relief efforts. It distributes food to a network of food shelves, meal sites, and similar places where charitable food supplies are available. Feeding America is a national nonprofit with similar goals.

Whalen said Feeding America has released the Map the Meal Gap report annual for the past several years. She said the level of child food insecurity has been flat for much of that time, with some slight dips here and there, but the rate has yet to dip below pre-recession levels.

According to Whalen, the study shows the overall food insecurity rate in Rutland County is 11.7%. Among Rutland County’s children, however, it’s 16%. Washington County has an overall rate of 11.3% and a child rate of 16.5%.

In all counties, she said, the child rate is higher than the general rate. The general rate ranges from a low of 9.6% in Grand Isle County, to a high of 13.1% in Essex County.

About 40% of the state’s food insecure people don’t qualify for federal assistance programs. Many of them turn to food shelves and the like, Whalen said.

Tom Donahue, chief executive officer of BROC Community Action, said between Oct. 1 and March 31 BROC’s food shelf served about 1,036 people per month. Of that, 29% were under the age of 18.

Whalen said not getting proper nutrition is a problem for anyone, but with children it can affect their development and fuel cycles of generational poverty.

The Vermont Foodbank is advocating for “Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation,” a bill encompassing a number of food security programs.

Kathryne Toomajian, a senior adviser for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Friday said the last Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill passed in 2010 and expired in 2015. Its programs, however, are permanently funded. She said the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is expected to take the issue up at some point this year, but an exact timeline hasn’t been set at this point. It’s generally a bipartisan effort, she said.

Lincoln Peek, a spokesman for U.S. House Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said it’s expected the matter will reach the House this year.

The Map the Meal Gap report is put together using information from federal sources such as the Department of Agriculture, Census Bureau, and Bureau of Labor Statistics, in addition to Nielsen Holdings, a New York-based information company, according to a release from Vermont Foodbank.

An interactive map and the full report can be viewed at https://map.feedingamerica.org/.

The report is supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which, according to its website, is a, “private family foundation working to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s most impoverished and marginalized populations.”

It also gets supported by the Conagra Brands Foundation, which is tied to Conagra Brands, a Chicago-based food company.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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