Millions of people in the U.S. who are eligible for food assistance programs did not receive assistance in the last 12 months, according to a new report from The Associated Press-NORC Center published Sept. 24.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents to AP-NORC’s poll said they struggled with food security in the last year – 4% said that they were “not very / not at all confident” that they could obtain sufficient food, while 19% said that they were not able to obtain the type of food their family desired.

Hispanic respondents were most likely to report “sometimes / often” not having sufficient food (9%), followed by Black respondents (5%) and white respondents (2%).

Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to struggle with food security, with 7% of 18-29-year-olds “sometimes / often” not having enough to eat, compared to 6% of 30-44-year-olds, 3% of 45-59-year-olds and 1% of those who are 60 or older.

These AP-NORC findings come a few weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) released its annual food insecurity report. That data revealed that 13.8 million households were food insecure in 2020 and that the number of food-insecure households with children increased for the first time since 2016.

“Perceptions of ineligibility, confusion about how to enroll, and a lack of services in local communities” were the key factors that hindered 12.5 million people in the U.S. from obtaining help with acquiring sufficient food for their household, AP-NORC found.

While 46% of respondents struggling to obtain food received government assistance, more than half (58%) encountered one of or more obstacles in doing so.

While the most common issue was their belief that they were not eligible (41% cited this), 25% were not sure how to access help, and 17% of respondents said obtaining help from programs like SNAP or WIC was “very / somewhat difficult.”

More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents said they couldn’t purchase balanced meals, 66% ran out of food between trips to buy more groceries, 44% ate less than necessary, 41% reduced or skipped meals, and 31% didn’t eat when they were hungry.

Most U.S. adults responding to the AP-NORC poll said they “always / often” obtained food at a grocery store or supermarket (86%).

By comparison, 13% “always / often” did so at a convenience or dollar store, 11% via a food assistance program, 11% by growing, foraging or canning their own food, 7% at farmer’ markets, 6% through a paid grocery or meal delivery service, 3% from a community meal pick-up program, 2% from a community meal delivery program, and 2% from meals served by houses of faith or senior centers.

“Where people get their food is closely linked to healthy eating,” the report said. “Those already experiencing food challenges are more likely to regularly shop at convenience stores (21% vs. 11%),” while “those who frequent convenience stores for their food are less likely to regularly buy (48% vs. 76%) and eat (47% vs. 72%) healthy food than those who rarely or never shop there.”

The full report is available here. The topline results are available here.

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