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More and more Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Over 12% of respondents to the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse survey said there’d been points in the last week when there wasn’t enough to eat. That’s over 27.6 million homes, an increase of almost 40% on the same period in 2021.

Food insecurity is highest in Louisiana, where almost 20% of respondents reported not having enough food “sometimes or often.” Nevada, Georgia, and Oklahoma were not far behind. Economic uncertainty, higher grocery costs, and the end of pandemic emergency benefits have all had an impact.

What to do if you can’t afford food

When you don’t have enough money in your bank account to buy food or cover essential bills, it’s beyond stressful. It can be exhausting. And sadly, there are no easy fixes — if there were, you’d already be doing them. If you’ve already cut back your personal finances on every cent of nonessential spending, see whether any local NGOs or assistance programs might be able to help. Here are some steps to consider.

Sign up for SNAP benefits

SNAP food benefits can go a long way toward feeding your household. If you aren’t receiving benefits, contact your local SNAP office to find out whether you could claim them. One U.S. Census Bureau report suggests that 1 in 6 eligible people are not participating in the program.

Right now, the maximum monthly payment for a family of four is $973. You may not receive the full payment, but even getting a small amount might make a difference. Eligibility is mostly based on your income and the assets you hold. If you currently receive SNAP benefits but your circumstances have recently changed and your income is reduced, check to see if you are entitled to more money.

Stretch your food benefits further

If you participate in SNAP, there are ways to make every dollar count. For example, look to see if there’s a Double Up Food Bucks program in operation near you. Participating markets and stores will give SNAP participants two for one on fruit and vegetable purchases. Another way to save money is to use cash back apps to get rewards for your SNAP spending. Experiment to see which app will work best with your EBT card and local store.

Cooking from scratch can be a way to save money, but it can also be time-consuming. Even so, if you are able to batch cook and freeze the extra food when you have a few spare hours, it can be a great money saver. For example, I soak and cook dried beans and keep them in the freezer rather than buying cans. A 32 ounce bag of dried black beans from Aldi costs $2.99 online and makes the equivalent of six cans of beans. A can of black beans costs $0.85, meaning you’d save over $2 by cooking them yourself.

If you’ve got a green thumb, you can even use your SNAP benefits to buy seeds and grow your own produce. Though if you are not into gardening, be aware that it may not be as easy as it seems. I have tried growing vegetables from seed with mixed results.

Look for other assistance programs

See if you qualify for any other food assistance, such as WIC if you have young children, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Outside direct food assistance, if you can get help with other bills, it might mean you’ll have more money for food. See if you are entitled to assistance with healthcare, housing, utilities, or other services at If you’ve recently lost your job, make sure you apply for any unemployment benefits you’re entitled to.

Use food pantries and soup kitchens

Search for food pantries and soup kitchens in your area. If you are nervous about visiting one for the first time, it’s understandable. Try to remind yourself that they are there to help. Make sure you arrive early and find out if you’ll need to show any kind of ID before you go. If you’re not sure where to start, try calling United Way at 211. It has a database of local and national assistance.

How you can help prevent hunger

You may be reading this and feeling lucky because you have enough food. If that’s the case and you want to help reduce food insecurity, there are several steps you can take. If you have a few hours to spare, why not volunteer to help at a food pantry or soup kitchen? Many of them rely on volunteers to organize, pack, and distribute the food.

Another route is to donate to a food NGO such as Feeding America. Food banks tend to prefer you give cash rather than donating food, because it lets them stretch the money further and means they can provide people with perishable items such as fresh produce. You could also organize a food drive and encourage others to donate and get involved.

Bottom line

When you don’t have enough to eat, it impacts every part of your life. Children don’t perform as well at school, and adults may have difficulty concentrating and be less productive at work. It can also have wider health impacts. Feeding America says that there are connections between food insecurity and ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

If you are having trouble finding money for food, you don’t have to face this alone. Reach out to NGOs and government programs to see what help is available.

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