More than One in Six Americans Report Inability to Afford Enough Food

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New food hardship data from the Food Research and Action Center reflect continuing struggles and highlight need for Congress to protect nation’s nutrition safety net.

Congress needs to fix the problems rather than doubling down on harming the most vulnerable Americans. - FRAC President Jim Weill

Millions of Americans continued in 2012 to struggle to afford enough food, according to new, up-to-date food hardship data from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). More than one in six Americans (18.2 percent) said in 2012 that there had been times over the past 12 months that they didn’t have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed.

FRAC’s food hardship report – Food Hardship in America 2012 – analyzes data that were collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has been interviewing almost 1,000 households daily since January 2008. FRAC has analyzed responses to the question: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” The report contains data throughout 2012 for every state, region, congressional district, and 100 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas (MSA).

The 18.2 percent national rate in 2012 was virtually unchanged from the rates in 2009, 2010, and 2011, as families continued to struggle with under- and unemployment, low wages, and inadequate government supports. The report found that food hardship rates remain too high, and that no corner of the country is immune from this struggle.

  •     Mississippi may have the worst rate among states, with one in four households reporting food hardship, but 42 states had rates of 15 percent of more. Even the “best” state, booming North Dakota, has one in ten households struggling with food hardship – just as unacceptable a problem given its prosperity.
  •     The worst MSAs may be Bakersfield, California and New Orleans, but 92 of 100 MSAs have at least one in eight (12.5 percent or more) households reporting food hardship.
  •     And, the worst congressional district may be in New York City, but 354 congressional districts – including rural, suburban and urban districts – have rates of 12.5 percent or more.

“Despite weaknesses in wages and employment, some in Congress continue to pursue cuts that would further fray our nation’s nutrition safety net,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Last year, Congress proposed billions in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Today, it is poised to further harm low-income programs, including WIC and other nutrition programs, with its failure to resolve self-imposed fiscal crises. And Congress has made no attempt to forestall the scheduled November 2013 cut in SNAP benefits.”

“Congress needs to fix the problems rather than doubling down on harming the most vulnerable Americans,” continued Weill. “The cuts need to stop, and the conversation needs to change.”

With the Farm Bill still on the agenda for 2013, the report noted that Congress has the opportunity to strengthen SNAP so it can continue to be an important support for struggling households. A report recently released by the Institute of Medicine underscored the current inadequacy of SNAP benefit levels in ensuring that recipients’ nutritional needs are met, and outlined flaws in how SNAP benefits are currently calculated. “Protecting and strengthening SNAP must be a top priority as Congress starts fresh on a Farm Bill this year,” said Weill.

The report was released just days before the 2013 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, sponsored by FRAC and Feeding America, and held in Washington, D.C. at the Capital Hilton. More than 700 anti-hunger advocates are expected to attend the conference which will culminate on Tuesday (March 5, 2012) with a Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

The full report is available at http://www.frac.org.

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Jennifer Adach
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