Southern Nevada food insecurity increased last year, Three Square says

By: - May 17, 2024 5:00 am

A volunteer packs food at Three Square Senior Hunger Campus. (Photo courtesy Three Square of Southern Nevada)

Food insecurity climbed across Southern Nevada last year with an estimated one in five children uncertain where their next meal is coming from, according to the latest findings from Three Square Food Bank.

Data released Thursday as part of the Feeding America’s 2024 Map the Meal Gap Study comes after food pantries and services providers warned in 2023 that end of pandemic era benefits on top of rising costs could increase the number of people relying on food assistance programs.

“The surge in food insecurity underscores pressing challenges Southern Nevadans face,” Beth Martino, the president and CEO of Three Square Food Bank, said in a statement. “Inflation and rising living expenses, especially grocery prices and rent, are causing financial strain for too many of our neighbors.”

The report, which includes data from Clark, Nye, Esmerelda and Lincoln counties, all within Three Squares service areas, found 341,480 people, or one in seven, were deemed food insecure.

Combined food insecurity rates for all four counties increased from 12% in 2022 to 14.7% in 2023. An estimated 14.6% of Clark County residents were food insecure, up from 12% the previous year.  

The highest rates are among Esmeralda and Nye counties, at 18.4% and 17.3% respectively. Both counties had a 13.9% rate the previous year.  

The report also found that rates among children spiked from 17.8% in 2023 to 22%. Roughly one in five children, about 115,000 children, live in food-insecure households.

The fear that more people might need to rely on food banks began last year after the supplemental allotment for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, ended. The additional monthly payment began during the pandemic. 

Martino spoke to state lawmakers at the interim joint Committee for Health and Human Services April 8 about the rise in demand the nonprofit has seen.

“Most recently from September through the end of February we saw a 23% increase,” she said. “What’s unique about what we see now in the data is not as many new people are coming into food pantries but people who were food insecure in the past are becoming repeat customers.”

Three Square, which provides food with the assistance of 150 community service providers, distributed more than 43 million pounds of food last year throughout Southern Nevada and anticipates the amount to grow this year.

Martino cited a report earlier this year that found “Nevada has the second highest grocery prices in the country,” and said that coupled with skyrocketing rent prices has added to the strain.

“Those earning minimum wage in Nevada at $11.25 an hour, potentially without health insurance, need to work 82 hours a week in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment,” she noted. 

Martino encouraged lawmakers to revisit universal free school lunches in the next legislative session as a way to keep “children well fed and nourished so they can learn and ultimately live their best lives.”

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill carried by Democrats in 2023 that would have provided universal free lunch for K-12 students. 

“Having universal access to free school breakfast and lunches is something that can make a meaningful difference in the life of the child, but also to a family as a whole who may be struggling to put food on the table,” she said. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) is an award-winning journalist with Nevada Current. In addition to covering state and local policy and politics, Michael reports extensively on homelessness and housing policy. He graduated from UNLV with B.A. in Journalism and Media Studies and later earned an M.S. in Communications at Syracuse University.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.