Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

More low-income families need food aid

The economic downturn has left many low-income Americans struggling with hunger for the first time, a survey out Thursday by Feeding America shows.

The hunger relief group, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, found that 36 percent of low-income households say they ate less or skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money for food, and 40 percent say they chose between food or paying for utilities in the past year.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Vicki Escarra, the group’s president. “We’re seeing more people come (to food banks) who’ve never come before.”

The group surveyed 450 low-income households. The findings are part of a growing body of research that suggest hunger is worsening in the United States:

• The number of people receiving food stamps jumped from 26.9 million in September 2007 to a record 31.6 million in September 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some of that increase is due to short-term aid for Hurricane Ike victims, but the numbers are at historic levels, says Stacy Dean, director of food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group.

“It’s really extraordinary,” Dean says. Unemployment is the biggest reason people struggle with hunger, she says.

Rising food prices mean food stamps, which average $239 monthly per household, don’t cover the full cost of a nutritional diet, says a USDA analysis released Thursday. Food stamp households that receive the maximum benefit face an average monthly shortfall of $22, up from $2.60 in 2003.

• The U.S. Conference of Mayors said this month that each of the 21 cities it surveyed on emergency food aid saw an increase in people requesting help for the first time, particularly working families. Cities reported an average 18 percent increase in requests from 2007 to 2008.

• The USDA’s annual report on food security found an increased number of households with children, 323,000 in 2007, who didn’t have enough to eat, compared with 221,000 in 2006.

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