An estimated one in seven Americans faced inadequate or inconsistent access to food at some point in 2014. That figure has held pretty constant since the 2008 financial crisis, according to a Feeding America report released Thursday.
"There’s plenty of food in America," Feeding America CEO Diana Aviv said. "This is more about a transportation problem, a distribution problem, a political will problem. It’s not about lack of availability."
Food insecurity — a household-level socioeconomic condition in which access to food can be limited or uncertain — did lower slightly to 15.4 percent nationally in 2014, it is far from reaching its pre-2008 level of around 11 percent.
Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-related nonprofit, measured food insecurity at state, county, and congressional-district levels, providing a localized picture of the challenges facing millions of Americans.
For example, in the county with the lowest food-insecurity rate, Virginia's Loudon County, just 4.3 percent of individuals are considered food-insecure. To contrast, 37.5 percent of people in Jefferson County, Mississippi, face food-security issues, the highest rate in the nation.
You can view information for your county via Feed America's interactive map.
Food insecurity is everywhere — but on the rise in big cities
Geographically, food insecurity is present everywhere in the US, but states and counties in the South tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, the report indicates. Of the counties in the top 10 percent of food insecurity, 90 percent of them are located in the South.
Food-insecurity rates in large urban areas, meanwhile, have increased. In 2013, the food-insecurity rate across metropolitan counties was at 22 percent. In 2014, it climbed to 26 percent.
One of the reasons for this increase could be due to food prices. Metropolitan counties account for 37 percent of all US counties, but make up 54 percent of the 331 highest priced counties for food.
Counties with a high food-insecurity rate have higher unemployment and poverty rates and lower homeownership rates and incomes than the average of all US counties.
People and households struggling with food insecurity face a multitude of unique problems, Aviv said, and food purchases are often the "first thing that goes."
Food banks are struggling to curb the problem
There's no silver bullet to fix America's food-insecurity problem. Feeding America runs more than 200 food banks nationwide, and in her visits to these banks over the last few months, Aviv has seen firsthand the issues that food banks face.
Food banks serve as hubs and storage facilities, portioning out food and distributing it to local communities. These banks and pantries are often only open during work hours and lack proper accessibility for the people who need their services most.
"Our lines [for food] are getting longer and longer. It pushes us not only to provide more food but to ask fundamental questions about how we shorten this line," Aviv said.
Feeding America is trying to streamline all the functions of food banks and pantries — donation, collection, stocking, access, and distribution — into an organized system so that individuals are better able to receive the food they need, when they need it.
For example, some food banks and pantries have set up offices for people to sign up for government assistance programs while they're picking up food.
Government assistance programs aren't helping as many people as they could
Many food-insecure Americans aren't using — or aren't eligible for — government programs meant to combat hunger.
About a quarter of food-insecure Americans are ineligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.
Even among those who qualify, participation rates tend to be low. A recent Hamilton Project report finds that about 56 percent of those eligible for food stamps don't receive the benefits.
In recent years, Congress has also made cuts to these programs.
In March, the House of Representatives's 2017 budget proposed cutting funding for food stamps by more than 20 percent by 2026.
"It’s not an ephemeral question. It’s not an academic question. It’s a question of people and hungry children who, instead of being hungry for learning, are hungry for food," Aviv said. "The pressure and urgency makes me feel like we have no time to lose."