THE PANDEMIC exacerbated an already serious issue in Granite State communities: food insecurity. In the aftermath of the pandemic, Granite Staters continue to experience difficulty accessing adequate food, which we can see in the increase in demand for services at New Hampshire food pantries. At a time when we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure individuals and families can put food on the table, the State of New Hampshire continues to lag behind the rest of the country in participation in federal food assistance programs and is missing out on opportunities to address hunger. That has to change.
According to New Hampshire hunger advocates, 37% of older adults in our state do not have sufficient food. Last month, more than 482,000 Granite State residents, including more than 150,000 children, reported not having sufficient food.
Federal nutrition programs provide assistance to eligible individuals and serve as a vital tool in combating hunger. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides nutrition benefits to low-income individuals and families to help them purchase nutritious foods; and child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which provide free or reduced-price meals to students in schools.
Federal nutrition programs are a key instrument in our fight to end food insecurity in New Hampshire. Yet, even before the pandemic, national data ranked New Hampshire 39th in the nation in SNAP participation and 47th in the nation for school breakfast participation.
With food insecurity persisting after the pandemic and families facing increased challenges meeting basic needs like finding affordable housing and child care, it is concerning that only half of those eligible for SNAP in New Hampshire are currently enrolled in the program. These troubling low enrollment rates do not reflect a lack of need. Rather, they highlight a lack of information. The State of New Hampshire needs to double down on its efforts to raise awareness about eligibility and strengthen outreach to households who could benefit from these resources.
There are federal funds available to implement a SNAP Outreach Plan, but New Hampshire has to date failed to make those funds available.
States that choose to implement a SNAP Outreach Plan can access federal funding to amplify enrollment efforts. Sadly, New Hampshire has not had a SNAP Outreach Plan in place for years, including at the height of the pandemic. I continue to encourage the state to opt-in to this federal program and use every tool available to combat hunger.
Even after being compelled by legislation to implement a SNAP Outreach Plan, the State of New Hampshire is continuing to slow-walk releasing the funding necessary for hunger advocates to connect qualifying Granite Staters with benefits to purchase nutritious foods. This is unacceptable and the state needs to expedite the release of these federal funds immediately. Hungry individuals and families from Colebrook to Rochester cannot afford to wait any longer.
Last year, the State of New Hampshire had the opportunity to apply to participate in the Medicaid Direct Certification Demonstration Project, which would have automatically enrolled thousands of low-income children in free and reduced school meal programs. The state chose to not apply. This inaction left New Hampshire among the only 11 states that do not participate. Once again, New Hampshire chose not to utilize available federal resources.
Thankfully, we have committed advocates, food pantries and community-based organizations across our state working to connect with households, raise awareness about nutrition programs and bolster New Hampshire’s enrollment rates. These advocates have been on the frontlines helping to meet Granite Staters’ most basic needs, and I am deeply grateful for their efforts. But they cannot shoulder this burden alone and need to be able to rely on the state to deliver the resources they need.
I urge the State of New Hampshire to swiftly leverage all available federal resources to bolster enrollment in federal nutrition programs and combat food insecurity in New Hampshire.