USDA: 17 million families struggled to get enough food in 2009

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By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 7:16 PM

Nearly 17 million families in America - about 15 percent of all households - had trouble putting enough food on the table at some point last year, a federal report released Monday morning shows.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also found that 5.6 million of these households had problems throughout the year that severely disrupted normal eating patterns. Between 500,000 and 1 million of the people affected in the homes were children.

"It's a considerable reflection of what is going on in the economy," said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

The number of "food insecure" homes remained about the same as in 2008. But it has more than tripled since 2006 as the recession set in and nearly 10 percent of households were hit by unemployment.

The report also provided a state-by-state breakdown, based on data from 2007-09. In the District, 12.9 percent of families struggled with securing sufficient food. In Maryland, the percentage was 10 percent, and in Virginia, 9.2 percent.

Concannon said he was somewhat hopeful, since the number of families suffering from hunger and nutrition problems stabilized last year, even though the population of unemployed Americans rose from 9 million in 2008 to 14 million in 2009.

He attributed the stabilization to successful outreach and enrollment of 57 percent of these families into one or more of USDA's food programs. One in four households have at least one family member participating in a USDA feeding program, up from one in five two years ago.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) used the report's release as an opportunity to push for Congress to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which will continue funding for the USDA's child nutrition programs. He also called for Congress to extend unemployment benefits, which are set to expire next month.

Harkin said these actions will "help to ensure that families don't have to choose between paying for rent and putting food on the table."


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