Food Insecurity Growing in Hawaii

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By: Lokelani Wilder

This article’s revelations are sobering and shocking.  U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 data shows that more Hawaii children are at risk of going hungry than ever before.  Nearly half of Hawaii families with children reported struggling to pay for meals as of March 2021.  The majority of people facing food insecurity now are facing it for the first time or in recent history. 

Before the Covid 19 pandemic began, Hawaii’s hunger rates were lower than national averages. Now, Hawaii’s situation is worse than national levels — a striking shift.

The pandemic’s effect on children and their families has manifested in different ways.  The surge in food insecurity is driven by Hawaii’s record unemployment rates, which often persisted as the highest in the nation. About three-quarters of Hawaii families reported that they struggled to pay for food and reported losing income during the pandemic.

The consequences of Hawaii’s worsening food insecurity will likely have a lasting impact on children’s health that could take years to measure. According to the Census Bureau, Hawaii’s hunger trends mirror increasing rates of anxiety and depression in the state.  Those interviewed who were having trouble affording food for the first time said it was affecting their mental health.

Local experts worry that families who never qualified for assistance before are missing out on benefits because they are not familiar with how to navigate the system. Of the families that reported the most struggles to afford food, only about a one-fifth of them were signed up for financial assistance. 

A recent University of Hawaii (UH) survey showed that 58 percent of UH students surveyed last year experienced some type of basic needs insecurity. Basic needs include, but are not limited to, food and housing, clothing, childcare, mental health, financial resources and transportation. More than 40 percent of UH undergraduates wondered whether their food would run out before they got money to buy more.  25 percent said they were hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food.  About 15 percent said they experienced homelessness.  These numbers equate to tens of thousands of students across the UH system.

Hawaii will never be a true paradise as long as we have people poor, hungry, and homeless in our midst.  We cannot blame these long-standing problems on the pandemic.  The pandemic exacerbated these problems.   We can blame the exacerbation on an unprecedented lack of preparedness and the problems we can blame on decades long lack of genuine leadership.  Democrats have failed our children.  It is far beyond time for real change.