Reports of an economic recovery notwithstanding, many families in the U.S. are struggling on the most basic level. One example: last year, 18.2 percent of Americans told Gallup polltakers that at some point over the previous 12 months, they “did not have enough money to buy food” for their families.
And in the Springfield metropolitan area, the number was slightly higher, with 18.3 percent of respondents reporting an inability to afford food. The overall “food hardship” rate in Massachusetts was 15 percent.
Those numbers were released in a new report by the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that works on anti-hunger public policy. The data was gathered via phone surveys from a sample of just over 350,000 people around the country.
While the 2012 figures represent a decrease from the previous year—18.6 percent of respondents reported trouble buying food in 2011—they’re still unacceptably high, say the report’s authors, and are “evidence of both the lingering effects of the terrible recession (e.g., high unemployment and underemployment; stagnant and falling wages), and the failure of Congress to respond robustly with initiatives to boost jobs, wages and public income and nutrition support programs.”
Activists are using the report to fuel a push to improve such programs; in a statement released in response to the FRAC findings, Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Mass. Law Reform Institute, said, “It is unacceptable that so many people across Massachusetts are struggling and cannot afford enough food to provide for their families. These numbers show us that we must make our nation’s safety net stronger, not weaker. The proposed cuts to SNAP, WIC, Elder Nutrition and other programs are unconscionable and would destabilize families that are already struggling.”
MLRI pointed to a January report from the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine that looked at the adequacy of SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps—a $75 billion program that serves 46 million people. The report, conducted for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, raised concerns about how SNAP allocations are determined and suggested changes to the process.
Among the concerns raised in that report: that the level of benefits isn’t enough for recipients who live in areas with higher food prices, and that many low-income households have trouble getting to supermarkets that sell healthy food at affordable prices.
Last week, MLRI and similar groups from around the country gathered in Washington for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, where they lobbied lawmakers to strengthen government nutrition programs.•