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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

More middle-income Florida households are facing food insecurity

People in blue shirts organize food donations at a folding table.
Courtesy of SPFC Communications
Volunteers bag food donations at the St. Pete Free Clinic in Dec. 2022.

More than a third of Floridians earning $50,000 to $100,000 reported experiencing food insecurity over the past year, according to a survey published by No Kid Hungry.

Tampa resident Kassandra Tatum has to carefully budget to stock her family’s fridge.

A single mom of two and longtime public school teacher, she said cost increases – especially at the grocery store – started outpacing her monthly income last year.

To afford groceries, she clips coupons, shops at two or three store locations to find the best deals and accepts food donations from a local church.

“I’ve cut every single corner. I’ve even reached out to my financial advisor seeing if there’s anything else I could possibly cut – and there wasn’t,” she said.

In January 2022, she started tracking every dollar that she spent. In twelve months, she said her grocery bill has nearly doubled.

Tatum is one of many Floridians who are finding it harder to afford groceries.

A new survey commissioned by No Kid Hungryfound that among those facing food insecurity, nearly one in three respondents lived in middle-class, working households earning between $50,000 to $100,000 a year.

“The income bracket for those families … is maybe not what many in our community would think to be true,” said Sky Beard, Florida director for No Kid Hungry.

Among those hit hardest, the survey found that parents (47%) and rural respondents (48%) are struggling to put food on the table.

In the greater Tampa Bay region, individuals and families described their experience with food insecurity this past year, including: regularly skipping meals to feed their children, choosing between bills and groceries and sacrificing healthier foods for cheaper options at the grocery store.

Beard said households that fall above the poverty line — but still struggle to afford food — can be left without many options.

“It’s our neighbors. It’s our coworkers. It’s our family members, and it's ourselves, who are having to make these difficult decisions,” she said.

Tatum said her family doesn’t qualify for federal food assistance because she earns too much as a Hillsborough County teacher.

For a family of three to beeligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the household annual income must fall below around $30,000.

Despite earning close to Tampa’s median household income, Tatum said she can no longer stretch her income to cover climbing costs.

Though reluctant, Tatum plans to change careers after nearly two decades as a teacher in Hillsborough County.

To locate food assistance resources in your community text 'FOOD' or 'COMIDA' to 304-304.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.