A USDA report out Wednesday examined the severity and prevalence of food insecurity in the U.S., as well as the participation in food assistance programs among the insecure, finding that almost 15% of U.S. households have difficulty providing enough food for all their members.
Though the report explains that this figure, which is based on data compiled from 2011 survey results, is not much different from 2010 estimates, the number of households that are rated as having very low food security is – returning to 2008 and 2009 recession levels.
USDA notes that 57% of food-insecure survey respondents indicated they had participated in at least one of the three largest federal food assistance programs.
Nutrition benefits, which are provided by funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, are scheduled for cuts in both the proposed Senate Farm Bill and the committee-passed House Farm Bill. Cuts to the nutrition programs total about $4.5 billion in the Senate version and a significant $16 billion in the House Ag Committee version.
Nutrition savings have been a source of contention among leaders in both the House and the Senate, and while the future of a new farm bill is uncertain, nutrition benefits still comprise roughly three-quarters of the total spending by the current bill.
The USDA survey notes, "SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] provided assistance to 40.1 percent of food-insecure households, children in 32.2% received free or reduced-price school lunches, and women or children in 11.2% received WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children] food vouchers."
However, the USDA report does indicate that for households receiving free or reduced-cost school lunches (a federal nutrition program), the prevalence of very low food security was "more than twice that of nonparticipating households with school-age children in the same income range."
Among households with children, approximately 10% of them were unable to provide adequate food.
Groups most commonly experiencing food insecurity, the USDA reports, are households with children headed by single women or men, and Black and Hispanic households. The report also notes that food insecurity is more likely in cities and rural areas rather than suburban areas.
The survey, which was conducted at the end of 2011, was comprised of a sample of U.S. households totaling 43,770 responding households.