The USDA Economic Research Service this week released a new study revealing that the percentage of food insecure households in the United States has remained relatively unchanged since 2008, despite efforts to improve access to healthy and affordable foods.
The report defines food insecure households as those with very low and low access to food due to a lack of money or other resources.
According to the latest figures, 14.5% of households were classified as food insecure in 2012, a figure that USDA said has been relatively unchanged since 2008.
In addition, 5.7% of U.S. households had very low food security last year. USDA said this range of food insecurity is more severe, and results in some members of the household taking in reduced portions and experiencing disrupted eating patterns. This figure, which is unchanged from 2011, also includes children.
The report also found that 3.9 million households – or 10% -- were unable to provide adequate meals for children specifically. That figure is unchanged from 2011.
USDA reported that the rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with children headed by single women or single men, and Black and Hispanic households.
Food insecurity was also more common in large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas and exurban areas around large cities.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
The figures likely will become part of a larger debate surrounding food stamps when House members return next week to the tabled issue of nutrition provisions in the House farm bill. Representatives split farm programs from nutrition programs in the 2013 farm bill. The farm program portion passed in July.
Part of the decision to split the bill stemmed from a widening gap between lawmakers who support nutrition programs and those who advocate reform. Many also blame the failure of the House to pass a full farm bill in July on the rampant disagreement in regards to nutrition programs.
While some lawmakers have threatened $40 billion in cuts to nutrition programs in attempt to reform the programs, the latest figures from the ERS indicate that 59% of food-insecure households in the study participate in one of the three largest food assistance programs: SNAP, nutrition assistance for Women, Infants and Children, or the National School Lunch Program.
Additionally, ERS reports that the typical food-secure household spent 26% more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition, including food purchased with SNAP benefits.
That's particularly strong evidence that food stamp programs don't require reform, one Congresswoman said in a statement Wednesday.
“This report is further proof that Republican leadership needs to stop the dangerous path it is currently on and ensure our critical anti-hunger programs are adequately funded," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "Behind the numbers in this report are parents who cannot put dinner on their kitchen table and children who go to school on empty stomachs. This is no way for the wealthiest country in the world to behave," she added.
DeLauro, who spoke strongly in favor of retaining current funding and participation requirements for the SNAP program in House farm bill debate this summer, added that if funding for the program were decreased by the previously proposed amount, approximately four to six million individuals would be rendered ineligible for SNAP benefits.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, too, reacted to the report, noting that "food insecurity remains a real challenge," and the latest report shows SNAP has kept food insecurity from rising, even during the recession.
"This is really not the time for Congress to consider significant cuts to the SNAP program," Vilsack said. "Particularly cuts that would disqualify millions of Americans and would threaten a rise in food insecurity."
Read the full ERS study, Household Food Security in the United States in 2012.