A chart accompanying an article Wednesday on poverty rates in urban and nonurban areas transposed rates for rural and metropolitan poverty. (Published 2/26/88)
Prohibitive state and federal rules and reduced spending on food programs for the poor have contributed to a nutrition crisis in rural America, particularly affecting children and the elderly, according to a study released yesterday by a Washington consumer organization.
The study by Public Voice for Food & Health Policy, the third in a series on rural poverty and nutrition, found "disturbing nutritional deficiences" among rural poor and placed some blame on restrictive government rules about who may participate in assistance programs.
"We believe this body of research shatters the myth of idyllic life in the quiet countryside," said Ellen Haas, executive director of Public Voice. "For many rural residents, poverty cruelly twists isolation and inaccessibility into barriers to adequate nutrition -- barriers that cause inferior health jeopardizing their lives."
Haas was seconded by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who said his panel plans to begin hearings next week on the hunger issue. He also said he and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are preparing legislation to make changes in federal nutrition programs.
Leahy, with Haas at a news conference on Capitol Hill, said the nutrition situation in rural America "is about to get much worse" because of reductions in surplus food supplies made available monthly to as many as 18 million people by the government's Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Leahy said that, while "the whole future of TEFAP seems in doubt," he and others in Congress plan to press the administration to keep the program alive. The administration has opposed the surplus distribution on cost grounds. TEFAP has spent about $50 million annually.
An earlier USDA report found that as many as 41 percent of TEFAP recipients regarded the program as their regular source of food, while 30 percent used it occasionally. Slightly more than one-third of 5 million households in TEFAP in 1986 were elderly, 48 percent included children under 18 years of age and only 41 percent also received food stamps.
Haas said that "more attention -- and congressional action -- needs to be directed to those living in rural poverty," who number proportionately more today than in decades.
"Mandated outreach to rural communities should be reinstituted," she said. "Mail issuance and the vehicle asset limitation for food stamps should be reviewed. The issue of which institutions can provide summer lunches in rural areas begs for consideration."
Some of the study's key findings:
In four of six age groups, the rural poor were more than twice as likely as nonpoor neighbors to consume a fruit or vegetable less than once a day.
Poor rural children were less than half as likely to eat fruits or vegetables regularly than poor urban children.
In 43 states surveyed, only 9.6 percent of poor children were served by the summer food-service program, intended to replace school lunch meals during vacation periods. Public Voice found that, while 11.8 percent of metropolitan poor children participated in the program, only 5 percent of rural poor children did so.
Major barriers to food stamp participation resulted from tough eligibility rules, lack of information and lack of mobility among the elderly. A survey found that transportation costs, distances, lack of vehicles and storage facilities impeded emergency food aid in rural areas.