FRAC Releases New Findings on U.S. Hunger

Nearly One in Five Households Report Inability to Afford Enough Food, SNAP Benefit Boost Keeping Food Hardship Rate from Skyrocketing

For Immediate Release
November 9, 2010
Contact: Jen Adach, 202-986-2200 x3018, jadach@frac.org

(Washington, D.C.)  Almost 18 percent of Americans reported in September that they had struggled to afford enough food to feed themselves and their families at times over the last 12 months, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s analysis of data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. FRAC released the findings, together with the Coalition on Human Needs and Witnesses to Hunger, on a conference call with reporters today.

FRAC’s analysis shows that food hardship (the ability of a household to afford enough food) declined slightly in 2010, down from an average of 18.5 percent in the last quarter of 2009 to an average of 17.7 over the six months of April to September 2010. This trend mirrors previous findings by FRAC, released in January of this year, which showed a rapid increase in the food hardship rates throughout late 2008 and early 2009 until an increase in monthly SNAP benefits, passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), took effect in April 2009.

“The fact that the food hardship rate did not grow in 2010 and even declined a bit is only modestly comforting,” said FRAC’s President Jim Weill. “It shows, however, the impact of increased SNAP benefits which helped people put food on the table and is mitigating the most damaging effects of the recession. Over the past 18 months, unemployment increased from 8.6 percent to 9.6 percent, yet the food hardship rate did not rise over the same time period.”

Proposals in Congress, however, would cut short the benefit boost and return SNAP benefits to lower levels. A bill passed over the summer took nearly $12 billion from future SNAP benefits, and a second proposal would cut further. The child nutrition bill, passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, would cut an additional $2.2 billion from future SNAP benefits by ending the ARRA boost in 2013. If it is passed, SNAP recipients would see their benefits fall by about $59 a month starting in November 2013.

“Given continued unemployment and underemployment, the food hardship rates should actually be much higher,” said Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of Coalition on Human Needs, who was on the call. “What this shows us is that SNAP is a program that works. Congress should be supporting programs that work, not weakening them.”

When Congress returns for its lame-duck session on November 15, it is expected to complete final negotiations on the child nutrition bill, which includes the school meal programs, among others. FRAC, along with many other organizations, is urging Congress to fix the SNAP cut and pass a strong child nutrition bill.

“We’ve all heard of Robin Hood who takes from the rich to give to the poor, but taking from the poor to give to the poor lacks common sense. The increased benefits helped struggling families put food on the table, and these cuts will have a real impact on their ability to afford enough food,” said Mariana Chilton of Witnesses to Hunger. “We’re optimistic that Congress can find alternative funding sources for the child nutrition bill other than SNAP funds.”

The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has been interviewing almost 1,000 households daily since January 2008. People were asked, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

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The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working  to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States. FRAC works with hundreds of national, state and local nonprofit organizations, public agencies, corporations and labor organizations to address hunger, food insecurity, and their root cause, poverty.