The Guardian November 29, 2000


Hunger in the US

by Fred Gaboury

Food has long been seen as the most basic of the basic necessities of life. 
Yet hunger is a fact of life for millions of American households and the 
number continues to increase. Data released by the US Department of 
Agriculture in July shows that 10.5 million families were classified "food 
insecure" in 1998.

More than 10 percent of all households, home to 31 million people, 
including 12 million children fit into the Orwellian category "food 
insecure." (Children make up 40 percent of the total number of "food 
insecure" individuals.)

According to the Food Research Action Council (FRAC), the 1998 numbers 
showed that food insecurity in households "was great enough to cause one or 
more members to be hungry due to inadequate resources for food".
ŠThese numbers have been documented by the US Conference of Mayors whose 
studies show that requests for emergency food increased by 16 percent 
between 1996 and 1997, with the number of families with children requesting 
assistance increasing by 13 percent.

Millions of families — some eight million people — have been driven 
further into food insecurity by the 1996 welfare "reform" or denial of food 
stamps by bureaucratic red tape.

A study released by America's Second Harvest, with a network of 200 
regional food banks, offers some insights into the more than 26 million 
people who must turn to food pantries and soup kitchens for emergency food 
at least once during the year:

* one-third are men, 37 percent are under 17, one-sixth are over 65;

* nearly half are white, one-third African American and 15 percent are 
Latino;

* two-thirds of client households have a combined annual income of less 
than $10,000 — and this at a time when the poverty threshold for a family 
of four is approximately $17,000 per year and for a family of three, a 
little over $14,000;

* more than one-fifth of those applying for emergency food are working and 
in more than one-third of the households applying for assistance, at least 
one adult is working;

* some 40 percent of clients at food pantries receive food stamps and three 
fourths of them run out of food stamps before the end of the month;

* one-quarter of those applying for emergency food have no stove for 
cooking, more than 40 percent have no phones and three-fifths have no car;

* nore than 40 percent of the agencies in the Second Harvest network report 
have had to ration food in the previous 12 months and one-in-eight have had 
to do so as often as once a month.

To overcome these shortages would require an additional 965 million pounds 
of food per year.

A 1997 study prepared for the Department of Agriculture showed that more 
than one-third of those eligible for the food stamp program were not 
receiving benefits.

Last August the General Accounting Office found that "food stamp 
participation has dropped faster than related economic indicators would 
predict", and added, "There is a growing gap between the number of children 
living in poverty", and the number of children receiving food stamp 
assistance.

In assessing the reasons for this decline FRAC says: "Some improvement in 
the overall unemployment rate has contributed to caseload declines in 
recent years, but less positive factors ... help explain much of the drop."
ŠAccording to a Department of Agriculture report released in July 1999, 
nearly three-fourths of families who were eligible for food stamps but were 
not enrolled in the program, said they were not aware that they were 
eligible.

A review by FRAC of the food stamp applications in all 50 states found that 
most were "generally long and burdensome" (36 pages in Minnesota), and 
strongly suggested that most were designed to discourage applicants.

The process is made even more difficult because most contain certification 
statements written at a 9th or 12th grade reading level, far above that 
attained by many applicants.

Some states require applicants to provide information regarding "deemed 
income", and "deprivation factor", while others ask about burial plots or 
the value of one's home.

In releasing their Who's Hungry study, Second Harvest said, "Hunger 
is the canary in the mine shaft that tells us whether welfare reform is 
working. It is not working if working people cannot afford to buy enough 
food."

The study continued, "For many Americans living at the low-end of the 
economic scale in the era of welfare reform, the availability of jobs and 
the good economy has not left them better off, just without a safety net."

* * *
People's Weekly World, paper of Communist Party, USA

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