Census statistics used to plan healthy food programs for low-income households

3 mins read

By the America Counts Staff

We all know fresh fruits and vegetables are key to good health. Yet many low-income neighborhoods have limited access to fresh produce.

That’s why programs such as the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program are vital to the health of communities.

“I believe in the census. I believe that  numbers matter.”

Betti  Wiggins, officer of  nutrition  services  for the  Houston Independent School District

Knowing how many children are in an area helps federal, state and local officials evaluate funding for nutrition programs.

“It’s important that a child is adequately nourished before attempting any activity,” said  Betti  Wiggins, officer of  nutrition  services  for the  Houston Independent School District, the nation’s seventh largest school district.

Every day, the district serves  280,000 meals to students, she said. 

SNAP, previously known as Food Stamps, provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budgets of families ”so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which manages the program.

The 2020 Census will help officials plan for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs for the next 10 years. SNAP receives approximately $71 billion a year in federal funds, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau.  

National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs

What began at the end of the 19th century as a school lunch program in Boston and  Philadelphia is now  the National School Lunch Program, a nationwide, government-funded  school nutrition program.

In 2016, over 30.4 million children received free or low-cost meals in their school cafeterias, according to the USDA. The program varies from school to school. 

All U.S. schools provide free or reduced-price meals to economically disadvantaged students. But some schools offer meals at no cost to all of their students if at least 40% of them receive SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance, according to USDA. Some qualifying students  also have  access to meals during summer months when school is out. 

The Census Bureau is working to educate the public that young children should be counted if they live and sleep in a home most of the time. A newborn should be counted if he or she was born on or before April 1, 2020.

According to the Census Bureau, children living in homes where the adults have limited English-speaking skills or are living in poverty are also more likely to be missed.

The Census Bureau has integrated messaging into its advertising and communications efforts, partnered with national and local organizations that focus on young children and published materials online, including a dedicated web page on counting young children. It also expanded the Statistics in Schools materials and outreach to include pre-schools.

“I believe in the census,” Wiggins said. “I believe that  numbers matter.”

Food Assistance Programs Critical for Low-Income Children and Families

According to the Census Bureau, of the 13.8 million households that receive SNAP, 6.7 million have children under the age of 18 and 6.4 million have someone living with a disability.

Of all the homes with children under  18, some 18% receive assistance from SNAP, according to the Census Bureau’s  2018 American Community Survey.

Students who qualify for SNAP also get free or reduced-cost school lunches. 

Federal nutrition programs are among the many reasons it is so important to respond (and report all children, including newborns, living in your home) to the  2020 Census.

Knowing how many children are in an area helps federal, state and local officials evaluate funding for nutrition programs.

SNAP and the National School Lunch Program are just two nutrition programs that use census results to inform planning. Other programs include the National School Breakfast Program  (NSBP), lunch programs for people age 65 years and older and meal delivery to disabled and homebound individuals.

The Census Bureau works with state and tribal governments to ensure recipients of SNAP don’t lose their benefits if they come to work for the 2020 Census.

They are working to get census income excluded so recipients who receive benefits can work as census takers (enumerators) without losing their benefits or eligibility status.

The Census Bureau has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which administers SNAP) to exclude income from temporary employment for 2020 Census. While it is ultimately a state decision whether to exempt 2020 Census income earned, a great majority of states have already agreed to this waiver.

Read more here.

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