This year brought impressive economic growth for many Oklahomans. The state unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, and our economy is recovering rapidly from the Great Recession. Despite these encouraging indicators, Oklahomans also face serious challenges: rising food costs, a widening income gap, low health rankings, and years of rising poverty and food insecurity.
Several programs operated by the state and federal government in Oklahoma are helping to address these problems. For each of these programs, a new OK Policy issue brief examines who is eligible and how many participate in Oklahoma, how they are funded and administered, what is their economic impact within the state, and what successes or failures they have shown in fulfilling their mission to reduce food insecurity.
The report explains what is food insecurity and why it is vitally important for Oklahoma to address. It goes on to describe the state’s active programs in seven areas of need: (1) the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; (2) School and Daycare Food Programs; (3) Child and Adult Food Care Programs at day cares and shelters for the homeless and victims of domestic violence; (4) the Women, Infants, and Children Program; (5) Senior Food Programs; (6) Non-Profit Food Distribution Programs; and (7) Food Distribution in Indian Country.
Overall, these programs are providing significant, measurable benefits across the state. They require few state dollars to operate, because they are all mostly or entirely federally funded. Besides alleviating hunger and food insecurity, they contribute to the economic well-being of Oklahomans by improving workers’ health, reducing health care costs, promoting financial security, and bringing dollars into the state economy through federally subsidized food purchases.
Oklahoma’s food security safety net does have its shortcomings. Critics point to a lack of healthy food options for the neediest families, especially in “food deserts” where fresh fruits and vegetables are not easily accessible or affordable. Although the need remains high, many of these programs have been cut in recent years due to state budget shortfalls, the expiration of stimulus funds, and federal sequestration cuts. As a result, benefits frequently fall short of what is needed for a family’s minimum food budget. While we have made strides in meeting this most basic need of our residents, work remains to be done.