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Economist talks food insecurity, says feeding kids isn't cheap in Florida

 Man in red shirt feeds a baby sitting in a high chair.
Korlina Grabowska

Florida opted out of a new federal program designed to help parents pay for groceries over the summer. Stetson University's Randall Croom breaks down how food insecurity affects local families.

A bill (SB 300) filed for the ongoing legislative session would make free school breakfast and lunch available to all public school students.

This comes after Florida opted out of a new federal program designed to help parents pay for groceries over the summer. The state turned down more than $250 million in assistance, which would have provided $120 worth of groceries to Florida parents helping some 2 million kids.

Raising and feeding children

According to Feeding America, more than 2.3 million people are facing hunger in Florida, of that more than 613,000 are children. Those facing hunger in Florida need an estimated $1.53 million dollars more per year to meet their food needs.

 Randall Croom is an Associate Professor at Stetson University.
Randall Croom
Stetson University
Randall Croom, an associate professor of management at Stetson University, says the economic impact of kids facing food insecurity will be seen long term.

Randall Croom, an associate professor of management at Stetson University, said the economic impact of kids facing hunger and food insecurity will be seen long term.

"Because what we do know from prior research is that when people experience food insecurity, it affects their ability to study and to concentrate well. When we think about what happens to some of these kids long term in terms of the educational attainment, the learning that they could miss out on, and what could happen to them."

Croom adds that the cost to raise and feed kids has increased over the years.

"One of my colleagues has two children, and they're 10 years apart. I asked her if she'd noticed significant differences in what it costs to raise and feed a child given the clear space she experienced between the two. She said absolutely and that, for example, things like baby formula is much more expensive than it has been before."

Lending Treereports that nationwide the annual cost to raise a child increased by more than $20,000 between 2016 and 2021, with an estimated 32.3% raise in food costs.

"The cost to transport kids has gone up quickly. Health insurance premium have as well. So, as people are getting hit harder with food problems at the grocery store, you can see that they're not getting relief necessarily from other places as well," said Croom.

However, the cost of raising and feeding children doesn't affect all households equally, according to Croom.

""Even though costs go up for everyone, it turns out that for single-parent- lead households with children the impact could actually be much more significant than two-parent households with children just from an economic perspective in terms of earnings."

He cites the gender pay gap and census data showing that most single-parent households are led by women.

Economic impacts

As Floridians continue to deal with increased food prices, Croom said they will likely spend less on things like clothes or shoes.

"One thing that we might see in response to that is restaurants choosing to advertise based on the affordability or the value of the meals, not just the new flavors."

He said the Taco Bell commercial below is a great example of that:

(Video courtesy of Comment on Commercials)

"We're seeing a lot of meal deals going forward so people are likely going to pay attention to value and that might affect the way that food is marketed and sold as a result of this," said Croom. "But beyond food, people probably make some different discretionary choices."

Possible solutions

Currently, Floridians dealing with food insecurity can utilize food banks, like Second Harvest, or apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), if they qualify.

Beyond that, Croom said changes to local ordinances could help those facing hunger.

"There are some ordinances and some municipalities that prevent restaurants from being able to give away food that is unused. Relaxing some of those ordinances could prevent food waste and makes sure that it goes to people who actually need it."

Croom said less food waste means lower food costs.

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Talia Blake