The number of Americans who lived in households that struggled to afford food increased last year even as more participated in government nutrition-assistance programs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
About 50.12 million Americans were “food insecure” at some point during the year, up 2.6 percent from 2010 and second to the record 50.16 million in 2009, the USDA said today in an annual report. A record 46.7 million people received food stamps in June, up 3.3 percent from a year earlier, the USDA reported.
Food-stamp spending, which more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2011, is the USDA’s biggest annual expense. The House budget plan approved in April sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee, would cut expenses by $33 billion over 10 years. Federal assistance is a key component of household budgets for the hungry, the USDA said in the report.
Food-insecure families include people whose “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources,” according to the report, which didn’t offer an explanation for the increase. Federal programs “increase food security by providing low-income households access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education.”
Reductions to the food-stamp program have emerged as a point of contention in debate over a farm bill to replace current law that expires Sept. 30. The U.S. Senate in June passed a plan that would lower expenditures by $4 billion over 10 years, while the House Agriculture Committee the following month backed a $16 billion cut, with members arguing that USDA efforts to increase enrollment are contributing to dependency on the government.
“Washington needs to have a grown-up conversation about the unchecked pace of food stamp enrollment,” Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.
Food insecurity was determined by a survey of 43,770 households on hunger-risk factors, including whether they were running out of food without money to pay for more, or whether they were unable to afford balanced meals. They also were asked if some family members skipped meals.
The survey, conducted by U.S.-census takers in December 2011, questioned one adult in each household. The number of individuals affected was estimated based on household size.
Of the people in food-insecure households, about 16.89 million, or 5.5 percent of all Americans, experienced “very low” security, meaning they were more likely than others to skip meals or go days without food, according to the study. That was a 5.2 percent increase from 2010.
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