WASHINGTON, Nov. 23- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is serving 46 million Americans, the highest in the program’s history, said USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. Rising numbers of recently unemployed or underemployed, as well as the rising population of American working poor, contribute to what he called “the new faces of SNAP.”
“Larger numbers of people who were donating to pantries in the past now require their services,” he said. “Millions of Americans are faced with the self-realization and the words, ‘I never thought I would find myself in this situation.’”
Even with the record number of participants, the 46 million using SNAP represent 72 percent of those eligible for the program. Concannon said the three groups that have the most eligible individuals not using SNAP are seniors, recently under- or unemployed and Latinos and Hispanics.
Government nutrition programs provide a safety net for low-income individuals, but Concannon said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking to partners in the private sector to contribute while government budgets get trimmed. Feeding America, which maintains more than 200 food banks nationwide, is one of example of a public-private partnership to “help fill the gaps.”
Feeding America CEO Vicki Escarra said their food pantry usage is up 46 percent in the last year, from 25 million to 37 million people total. Escarra also said overall food donations are down this year, due in part to increasing food prices. Also, the use of food pantries is shifting from emergency short-term need to sustained long-term need.
With the “Super” committee’s failure, most nutrition programs, including SNAP, will be protected from the 2013 automatic cuts. However, Escarra said some low-income programs, like WIC, a federally-funded health and nutrition program for women, infants, and children, would not be immune. She added she was “disappointed in” the proposed $4 billion reduction to nutrition programs in the Farm Bill draft proposal formed by the House and Senate Agriculture Committee.
“There’s a history of bipartisan commitment to protecting safety net programs,” said Escarra. “We need to focus on reducing deficit, but not in a way that puts low-income families playing by the rules in greater risk of hunger.”
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