One out of seven American households had difficulty providing enough food to all their members in 2009, according to the USDA. Food Security in the United States 2009 reports that the number of food insecure Americans is essentially unchanged from the previous year, and remains at the highest level since the survey began in 1995. One-third of these families had very low food security, meaning that members in 6.8 million households had reduced food intake or disrupted eating patterns due to lack of money or other resources. Over 36% of female-headed households with children were food insecure. Black and Hispanic households were more than twice as likely as white (non Hispanic) households to experience food insecurity.
As grim as these numbers are, they could be worse. Government programs were clearly lifelines for millions of hungry Americans last year. More than 1 in 10 Americans participated in the SNAP (formerly known as food stamp) program in 2009 each month, an increase of 18.7% over 2008. On any given school day, 31.3 million low-income school children received free or reduced-price lunch — up 5.4% from 2008. That’s an additional million kids needing help to get school lunch.
Hunger and Shame
Some 5.6 million households used food pantries one or more times, up 18% over 2008. But the demand might have been greater: 65% of food insecure households surveyed reported that they knew there was a food pantry in their neighborhood but they did not use it.
“This report highlights just how critical federal nutrition assistance programs are for American families in need,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services, “We anticipate that food security will improve as the economy improves but in the near-term, without these benefits, many families would face far more severe problems getting the nutritious food they need.”
One person’s handout is another’s hope. As Republicans and Tea Partiers call for smaller government, it is terrifying to think about what this country would look like now if these assistance programs had been ended or cut.
Photo: © Renata Osinska via iStockphoto