Food-insecure households in the United States, defined as those who “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources,” declined to prerecession levels last year, USDA's Economic Research Service reported Wednesday.

The drop in food insecurity from a percentage of 11.8% of households in 2017 to 11.1% in 2018 “was statistically significant and continued a decline from a high of 14.9% in 2011,” ERS said in a summary of the report.

The number of households with “very low food security” declined slightly, from 4.5% to 4.3%. That 4.3% represents about 5.6 million households, but ERS said the decrease was not statistically significant. “In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources,” ERS said.

"Children were food insecure at times during 2018 in 7.1% of U.S. households with children (2.7 million households), not significantly different from 7.7% in 2017," ERS said. Those households "were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.”

Children in households with very low food security declined to 0.6%, or 200,000 households, not a statistically significant difference from 0.7% in 2017, ERS said

Children “are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security,” the report said. Households with very low food security among children reported that kids “were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food.”

However, the report distinguished between children in food-insecure households, where both adults and children at times did not have enough to eat, and households with children, in general. ERS said 13.9% of households with children "were food insecure at some time during [2018]," which is "down significantly" from 15.7% in 2017.

"Parents and caregivers often are able to maintain normal or near-normal diets and meal patterns for their children, even when the parents themselves are food insecure," ERS said. "In about half of food-insecure households with children in 2018, only adults were food insecure (6.8 percent of households with children)."

"Food insecurity in households with children in 2018 is now lower than in any year back to 1998, when the USDA began tracking this statistic," said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, an anti-hunger nonprofit.

"If we keep this momentum going, ending child food insecurity is within our reach," Davis said. "We must not allow new policies proposed by the White House to undo nearly a decade of progress."

Davis criticized the Trump administration's proposal to eliminate Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) from SNAP. BBCE "makes most households categorically eligible for SNAP because they qualify for a non-cash Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or state maintenance of effort funded benefit," according to USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.

Getting rid of BBCE "would end SNAP benefits for more than 3 million low-income people — most of whom are working poor families, seniors and people with disabilities — and put school meals in jeopardy for more than 500,000 children," Davis said.

Davis and Jim Weill, president of the Food Research & Action Center, also criticized the administration's new "Public Charge” rule, which allows immigration officials to consider whether a green card or visa applicant is likely to use SNAP or a variety of other public programs in determining whether to approve their application.

"This is generating widespread fear among immigrant families that participating in programs that help feed their children will impact their ability to stay together in the United States," Davis said.

“The typical (median) food-secure household spent 21% more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition,” ERS said. “These estimates include food purchases made with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.”

Most food-insecure households in the survey reported they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs in the previous month: SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the National School Lunch Program.

ERS used data from an annual Census Bureau survey to craft the report.

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