One-third of Los Angeles County households experienced food insecurity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health restrictions, but that percentage fell to about 10% during the first half of 2021, according to a USC study released Wednesday.
“While it is encouraging to see food insecurity declining, it is still unacceptable that nearly 1 million Los Angeles County residents find it difficult to put food on the table,” lead researcher Kayla de la Haye, an assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said in a statement. “Fortunately, we have been able to identify initiatives that can address this challenge so that more of our fellow Angelenos no longer have to worry about feeding their families.”
The study, directed by the Public Exchange at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, found that one in three households in the county experienced disruptions in eating due to a lack of money or resources between April and December of 2020. While the situation improved to about one in 10 during the first half of 2021, the problem primarily impacted residents who are low-income, women, Latinos and between the ages of 18 and 40.
CalFresh benefits provided food relief for some, but only 25% of food-insecure households were receiving such benefits as of June, according to researchers. More than one-third of them live in so-called “food deserts,” with limited access to grocery stores.
“A lot of food outlets had to temporarily close or reduce their number of customers. An unintended consequence was that food access became more difficult, adding to the challenges of people with food insecurity,” de la Haye said. “New sources of data allowed us to identify when and where these closures occurred, as well as neighborhoods with a double burden of food deserts and `food assistance deserts,’ meaning no food assistance providers were nearby.”
Among the findings cited by researchers:
— one-third of census tracts in Antelope Valley and South Los Angeles are both food deserts and food-assistance deserts;
— roughly 77% of census tracts that are food deserts have no food assistance providers;
— one-third of food-insecure people had difficulty getting food because they lacked transportation or because food stores were closed or had limited hours; and
— half of food-insecure people couldn’t get groceries delivered.
The report’s authors recommended that the county engage in targeted outreach to enroll more affected households in CalFresh and engage in community planning to address equitable access to food.
“These research findings demonstrate the need for us to continue with our efforts towards building equitable and sustainable food support systems,” Swati Chandra, director of the L.A. County Food Equity Roundtable, said in a statement. “We will build upon the cross-sector collaboration with government, philanthropy, community-based organizations, academia and others to provide food assistance during this pandemic, as well as better prepare for other challenging times.”