Food Hardship Rate Still Alarmingly High In DC, As In Almost All States

For the last year and a half, the Food Research and Action Center has been issuing periodic reports on food hardship in the U.S. Its latest update indicates that food hardship rates remain alarmingly high, though the national rate has dropped a bit since the July 2008-9 year.

This is also true for the District of Columbia. But according to FRAC, neither the national nor the District’s year-over-year declines are big enough to be statistically significant.

As I wrote in heralding FRAC’s first report, food hardship is relatively equivalent to what the U.S. Department of Agriculture terms “food insecurity.”

A household is counted as experiencing food hardship if a member answers in the affirmative when asked, “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you and your family needed?”.

During the period January-June 2010:

  • More than 20% of responding households in 16 states had experienced food hardship.
  • Only five states had food hardship rates under 15% and only one state (North Dakota) a single-digit rate.
  • The rate for the District was nearly 18.3% — or well over one in every six households. As with the latest USDA figures, this puts the District midway between the highest and lowest state rates.

Comparing July-June figures for 2008 and 2009, FRAC finds that food hardship rates in five states increased enough to be statistically significant. The same number of states had statistically significant decreases.

So the best that can be said is that food hardship rates haven’t risen as much as one might expect, given the persistently high unemployment rate and continuing increases in both the rate and raw number of people in poverty.

What will happen in the upcoming year is an open question.

As FRAC President Jim Weill observes, “states will be facing many fiscal challenges,” as will the District. They surely can’t look to Congress for another round of temporary assistance.

Not with the new Republican House leadership promising $100 billion in spending cuts — some $50-$60 billion more than their Senate counterparts achieved by blocking a Fiscal Year 2011 budget. Not with their insistence that the stimulus spending in the economic recovery act “failed.”

Many economists are forecasting unemployment rates at or over 9% through 2011. Though many jobless workers will remain eligible for extended unemployment benefits, they’ll be getting less.

Then perhaps nothing. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers reportedly expects an additional 4 million to exceed the maximum weeks they’re entitled to.

Still, there are things that states and the District can do to address food hardship. As FRAC elsewhere suggests, they can make getting foods stamps easier and quicker while also doing a better job with outreach.

They can take advantage of provisions in the reauthorized Child Nutrition Act that expand opportunities to feed low-income children in and after school.

They can do something about low participation rates in subsidized summer meal programs — or in the District’s case, a relatively high rate that’s shrinking.

Perhaps they can also retool their workforce development programs to help more jobless workers secure stable living-wage employment.

Mayor Vincent Gray made this a keynote of his campaign. Now that he’s in office, let’s see what he and his new appointees do. From what I’ve heard, they could do quite a lot without a lot more spending.

That would be good for our economy and for thousands of our hungry neighbors too.


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