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More families than ever before need food assistance, finds USDA report
food pic
Food donated to the Salvation Army goes directly into food boxes prepared for Turlock families. - photo by Journal file photo

Across the nation there were 17.4 million families, or approximately 15 percent of the country’s households that struggled to put food on the table during 2009, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of food insecure grew by 1.2 percent between 2008 and 2009.

The annual USDA report outlines the access to food in America and according to USDA officials, underscores the need for nutrition assistance programs, like food stamps.

"This report highlights just how critical federal nutrition assistance programs are for American families in need and the Obama administration is working to provide greater access to this critical safety net during these difficult economic times," USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon said in a released statement. "These programs are designed to respond rapidly and automatically to emerging needs in times of economic change and will expand and contract with the economy. We anticipate that food security will improve as the economy improves but in the near-term, without these benefits, many families would face far more severe problems getting the nutritious food they need."

The report found that of the 15 percent of households experiencing food insecurity, one-third stated that at least one family member did not get enough to eat at some time in 2009 and that normal eating patterns were disrupted because of limited resources.

Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas, and rates were substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with children headed by single parents, and African-American and Hispanic households, according to the report.

The California Food Policy Advocate reported there are more than 72,000 residents in Stanislaus County living in poverty, based on census estimates.

Nutrition assistance programs saw dramatic growth in 2009 as families struggled with the aftermath of the recession. Several programs reported record levels of participation. Fifty-seven percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs within the past month. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called the Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Average monthly SNAP participation increased by about 5.3 million people for an increase of 18.7 percent. One million more low-income children received free or reduced price lunches on an average school day for a 5.4 percent increase. Over 400 thousand more low-income women, infants, and children participated in WIC in an average month for a 4.8 percent increase. Food donations through The Emergency Food Assistance Program increased by $100 million as a result of the Recovery Act, providing additional USDA Foods to thousands of food pantries and other emergency feeding organizations across the country.To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.