Working Toward a Hunger-Free Washington
This blog post was written by Elsa Young, United Way of King County food security impact manager.
It should come as no surprise that, more than three years after the onset of COVID-19, low-income families are still reeling from the fallout from the global pandemic. With the rising cost of groceries, households are struggling to keep food on the table. Two community surveys completed over the past six months help us understand the full reach of food insecurity in King County.
Conducted by the University of Washington and United Way of King County, the two surveys together asked more than 1,000 King County households about their experiences with food insecurity and food assistance programs. Nearly half of respondents reported experiencing food insecurity in the past month, with the highest rates among Black, Indigenous and other households of color, families with children, and those with low incomes. Surveys also showed that households with children are experiencing food insecurity at nearly twice the rate of households without children.
An issue as complex as food insecurity does not have a singular solution, which is why United Way of King County is combatting hunger on multiple fronts.
As the first line of defense, United Way is working to connect households in Washington to cash benefit programs that relieve the financial burden of groceries. This includes outreach and enrollment support for benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Working Families Tax Credit.
These cash benefits can mean an extra several hundred dollars per month for low-income households—providing them with much-needed flexibility in their budgets to purchase healthy and culturally specific groceries.
In addition to cash benefits, United Way works to ensure kids in Washington state have access to three healthy meals at school each day. Through advocacy and implementation work on child nutrition programs like Breakfast After the Bell, Community Eligibility Provision and the Free Summer Meals Program, United Way is increasing access to daily meals for thousands of students statewide.
Together, these programs keep kids from going hungry and ease financial stress for families struggling to meet their basic needs.
Despite these federal nutrition programs, many families still need to rely on their local food banks for support—yet survey data shows that half of households who use food banks face structural or cultural barriers to accessing their services.
In response, United Way formed the Food Justice Collaborative—a coalition of emergency food providers focused on shifting power to Black, Indigenous and other communities of color and advocating for racially equitable changes to the food system. Additionally, United Way of King County is partnering with more than 30 food banks in King County through the Home Grocery Delivery Program, which leverages DoorDash to bring boxes of groceries to the doorstep of thousands of households each week.
There is no simple solution to solving food insecurity in our communities—but by maximizing cash benefits, expanding federal child nutrition programs and reimagining the emergency food system, United Way of King County aims to move the needle closer to a hunger-free Washington.