USDA data shows 14.5 percent of U.S. households still food insecure

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 2013 - USDA's Economics Research Service (ERS) yesterday released a report indicating that 14.5 percent of households were food insecure in 2012. Those 17.6 million households represent virtually the same numbers the country saw when it first dipped into recession four years before.

ERS defines “food-insecure households” as those that “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food” for all their members.

Typically, the agency says, those households experience the condition in seven months of the year, for a few days in each of those months.

The report also found 5.7 percent of U.S. households (7 million) had very low food security, such that families were forced to disrupt their normal eating patterns due to limited resources. That number has also remained consistent since 2009.

The report arrives at a contentious political moment: After a comprehensive farm bill package with $20 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts failed in June, the House was able to pass the legislation in July - without a nutrition title. A Republican working group is still hammering out the details of a new food stamp proposal, but Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., indicated last month that the party would request a larger, $40 billion cut.

Anti-hunger groups and congressional Democrats alike linked yesterday's release to those food stamp cuts, accusing GOP members -particularly those in the House - of attempting to slash social safety net benefits even as food insecurity numbers remain static.

The USDA figures are “tragic,” Agriculture Committee member Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said in an email. She cautioned colleagues against putting “our heads in the sand and [thinking] that by cutting nutrition programs even more, somehow we will be a better, stronger nation for it.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who led House Democrats in pressing Speaker John Boehner on food stamps last month, also chimed in, calling on Republican leadership to “stop the dangerous path it is currently on.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack vowed to “continue to deliver a strong nutrition program” even as his subtly wagged a finger at congressional Republicans. It is “not the time for cuts to the SNAP program that would disqualify millions of Americans and threaten a rise in food insecurity,” he said in a statement.

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