A statewide hunger assessment has found Oklahoma leaves $404.5 million in federal assistance on the table each year.
The additional funding would go a long way in helping more than 650,000 Oklahomans who wonder where their next meal will come from. According to the USDA, 15.5 percent of Oklahoma households experience food insecurity. That’s a higher rate than the national average.
Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard said to get that extra funding, Oklahoma needs higher participation in several programs, especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
"The way a lot of them work is they're reimbursement. So, you can't just say, 'I want that money,' and it comes. You have to be serving the people and then get the money," Bernard said.
Besides SNAP, the Hunger Free Oklahoma assessment identifies the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and child nutrition programs providing breakfast, lunch, after-school and summer meals as areas the state can boost participation and bring in more funding.
"I meet every day with people who run after-school programs or summer programs for kids ... who have no idea that there are resources out there that could be providing food for all the kids, allowing them to use their scarce resources to directly serve the kids instead of paying for food," Bernard said.
Going hungry means infants fall behind in brain development, older kids underachieve at school, and adults get sick or can’t work toward a better job.
"All of these things sort of add up and compile to have major negative impacts on our state outcomes in academic achievement, economic performance," Bernard said.
Hunger Free Oklahoma's assessment said hunger costs the state more than $1.5 billion a year. The organization will work with public and private organizations to boost awareness of the help that’s out there for hungry people.