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What are Food Insecurity and Hunger?

California produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, yet more than 1 in 5 Californians — about 8.8 million — currently struggle with food insecurity. “Food insecurity” is limited or uncertain access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life.

Food insecurity can include experiences such as:
In extreme cases, it can also include:

Food insecurity has serious impacts on an individual’s well-being.
Food insecurity can certainly lead to hunger — the uncomfortable feeling someone has when they don’t have enough food. But even without the experience of hunger, food insecurity has been linked with poor school attendance and performance, lowered workplace productivity, and worse physical and mental health. Individuals experiencing food insecurity have to make tough decisions that no one should face. No family should have to decide between buying groceries or paying rent, no senior should have to choose between food and medicine, and no parent should have to skip a meal in order for their children to eat.

California Food Insecurity Dashboard

Since early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has been collecting data on food hardship through a semi-regular Household Pulse Survey, which has enabled us to track changes and trends throughout the pandemic and recovery periods. Colleagues at Northwestern Institute for Policy Research used this data to calculate food insecurity estimates for overall households, households with children, and households represented by Black, White, and Hispanic/Latine participants.

CA food insecurity rate: ~23% overall households, ~28% households with children
As of October 2023, over 3 million households in California – including over 1 million households with children – face food insecurity. And these numbers don’t tell the full story. Because of vast structural inequities, much higher levels of food insecurity are experienced by Black and Hispanic/Latine households, with white Californians experiencing food insecurity at rates lower than the general population. Also, as shown below, across all racial and ethnic groups, food insecurity is higher in household with children, compared to those without.

Click on the graph below or click aquí to explore food insecurity rates by race and changes over time. The dashboard is updated after each data release (currently scheduled for February 22, March 21, and April 18, 2024).

CalFresh Expansion to SSI Recipients Dashboard

The expansion of CalFresh benefits to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients in 2019 was the biggest increase in food program eligibility in decades, ending an inequitable policy of exclusion that had been in place for over forty years. The change impacted nearly 1.2 million SSI recipients. The California Association of Food Banks has been tracking the remarkable progress toward full enrollment of this population over the last four years. More than 706,000 SSI recipients were enrolled in CalFresh* as of February 2023, a 61% enrollment rate.

Program administrators and local advocates can use these dashboards to understand how successfully the CalFresh program has reached SSI recipients statewide and at the county level, and to target future outreach efforts to under-enrolled populations.

Click on the graph below or click aquí to explore the data.

Research & Reports

California food banks delivered more than 880 million pounds of food in 2022. Learn more about how we’re responding to California’s ongoing hunger crisis by checking out our recently published reports:

CalFresh Expansion to SSI Recipients: Successes & Opportunities
September 2023
White Paper | CalFresh for College Students: Equitable & Just Access
March 2022
CalFresh Emergency Allotments & Pandemic EBT Are Ending
CalFresh Emergency Allotments & Pandemic EBT Are Ending
February 2023
Pandemic-EBT in California: Lessons & Opportunities to End Childhood Hunger
March 2021
Expanding CalFresh to California’s SSI Recipients: Successes & Opportunities
June 2022
The Impact of COVID-19 on California’s Emergency Food System
March 2021

Food Bank Data

The Impact of California’s Food Bank Network, 2021–22
May 2023
California Food Banks & the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 2021

Annual Impact Reports

2022 Impact Report
March 2023
2021 Impact Report: Everyone to the Table
March 2022
2020 Impact Report: Through It Together: Our Pandemic Year
March 2021

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