Washington Post coverage today discussed the role of the economy and federal food assistance programs in influencing food insecurity:
"It's a considerable reflection of what is going on in the economy," said Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.... Concannon said he was somewhat hopeful since the number of families suffering from hunger and nutrition problems stabilized last year even though the population of unemployed Americans rose from 9 million in 2008 to 14 million in 2009.Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been increasing rapidly in the past two years. Average monthly participation in this leading anti-hunger program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, was 33 million people in 2009, up more than 5 million from the preceding year. However, increased SNAP participation itself reflects increased economic hardship and does not necessarily mean reduced food insecurity and hunger. In the most recent USDA food insecurity report, the rate of household food insecurity was 55% among SNAP participants, but only 31% of low-income non-participants.
He attributed the stabilization to successful outreach and enrollment of many of these families into USDA-funded food programs. Fifty-seven percent of the families in the survey are enrolled in one or more of these programs. And one in four households have at least one family member participating in an USDA feeding program, up from one in five just two years ago.
Because the annual USDA report no longer describes severe food insecurity as "food insecurity with hunger," the clearest national survey-based measure of hunger in the United States is the simple question about whether any adults in the household went hungry. The estimates reported in appendix A of the new report indicate that 4.6% of U.S. households in 2009 experienced hunger in this sense, unchanged from the preceding year.