One American is eight needs food assistance, study shows - Word&Way

One American is eight needs food assistance, study shows

DALLAS—Food-assistance agencies nationwide serve 1 million more people each week than they did four years ago, according to a national study released Feb. 2.

The nation’s network of food banks and related agencies provide emergency food to 37 million people—one American in eight—including 14 million children and about 3 million senior adults, the study revealed. That’s a 46 increase over the number reported four years ago.

The Hunger in America 2010 report, a comprehensive four-year study conducted by Mathematic Policy Research for the Feeding America network, provides the first empirical data demonstrating  “an undeniable connection between the recent economic recession and hunger,” said Jan Pruitt, president of the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas.

“Hunger across our nation is growing by leaps and bounds,” she said.

More than one household in three served by charitable agencies nationwide experiences “very low food security”—a 54 percent increase in the number of households compared to 2006.

About 5.7 million people receive emergency food aid each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen or other charitable agency served by one of the more than 200 food banks associated with the Feeding America network.

“Clearly, the economic recession, resulting in dramatically increasing unemployment nationwide, has driven unprecedented, sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, in a news release.

“Hunger in America 2010 exposes the absolutely tragic reality of just how many people in our nation don’t have enough to eat.  Millions our clients are families with children finding themselves in need of food assistance for the very first time.”

Hunger in America 2010 reports a 68 percent increase over 2006 in the number of adults seeking food assistance who have been unemployed for less than one year. Nationally, the number of children served through the Feeding America network increased 50 percent.

The report revealed the hard choices Americans affected by recession and unemployment face. More than 46 percent of the households served the Feeding America network reported having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and paying for food. Nearly four out of 10 said they had to choose between paying rent or a mortgage and buying food, and more than one-third said they had to choose between transportation and food.

“It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities,” Escarra said.

“These are choices that no one should have to make, but particularly households with children. Insufficient nutrition has adverse effects on the physical, behavioral and mental health, and academic performance of children. It is critical that we ensure that no child goes to bed hungry in America as they truly are our engine of economic growth and future vitality.”

Statewide, the study showed 3 million Texans—including 1.2 million children—received help from a food pantry or soup kitchen in 2009. Among those served by food-assistance agencies in Texas, 42 percent are children under age 18.

Among Texans helped by food-assistance agencies, 53 percent report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating; 42 percent had to choose between buying food and paying their rent or mortgage; and 37 percent had to choose between food and paying for medicine or doctor’s care.

“This is unacceptable,” Pruitt said, noting about 64,600 people receive emergency food assistance each week from agencies served by the North Texas Food Bank—an 80 percent increase from 2006.

In Texas, the Hunger in America 2010 report noted, 73 percent of the pantries, 49 percent of the kitchens and 41 percent of the shelters are run by faith-based agencies affiliated with churches or other religious organizations.

The study also dispelled some common myths about people seeking food assistance. It showed that in Texas, 84 percent of the clients of food-assistance programs are U.S. citizens, and 43 percent of the households had at least one working adult.

No single ethnic group comprises a majority of the hungry population in Texas. Of the clients served by food-assistance agencies, 44 percent are Hipanic, 28 percent are African-American, 26 percent are Anglo and 2 percent are from some other racial/ethnic group.

The Hunger in America 2010 study was released just one week after a Gallup poll revealed 21 percent of households in Texas reporting not having enough money to buy food in 2009. The Gallup results were made available by the Food Research & Action Center, based in Washington, D.C.

Data for the Hunger in America 2010 study was collected from February through June last year. It involved more than 62,000 face-to-face interviews with people seeking emergency food assistance from any of the 63,000 agencies served by a Feeding America network food bank.