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New Data Show Nearly 13 Percent of Washington D.C. Households Struggling with Hunger as Recession Hits
Washington, D.C – November 19, 2010 – One in eight households in the District of Columbia struggled with hunger during the 2007-2009 period, according to new data released by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Nationally, more than 50 million people lived in households that were food insecure in 2009 – up from 49.1 million in 2008 and 36.2 million in 2007.
Among the 12.9 percent of people in District households considered to be food insecure during the 2007-2009 period, 4.5 percent were living in households that were considered to have “very low food security.” People that fall into this USDA category had more severe problems experiencing hunger and cutting back or skipping meals on a more frequent basis for both adults and children.
D.C. Hunger Solutions noted, however, that the state numbers are averages of years from both before and after the start of the recession. They therefore almost certainly understate the extent of food insecurity in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and, in all likelihood, today. To report food insecurity in each state, USDA uses three-year averages to compensate for limited sample sizes and give a better estimate of the number of households experiencing hunger – thus the state data are an average for 2007-2009. 2008 was the first year of the recession, and unemployment did not rise sharply until the second half of that year.
For a current snapshot of hunger during the recession, D.C. Hunger Solutions points to data on food hardship in 2009 released by the Food Research and Action Center earlier this year, which show nearly 20.8 percent of people in D.C. reported an inability to afford enough food in 2009. The data were gathered by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has been interviewing almost 1,000 households daily since January 2008. People were asked, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”
“Whether we look at the USDA three-year data or the FRAC analysis of the 2009 Gallup poll, far too many people in our nation’s capital struggle with hunger, but D.C. is taking some aggressive steps to turn the tide. Far too many people in our state are struggling to put food on the table,” said Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “Efforts to increase SNAP participation, to expand the availability of school breakfast and healthier school meals, and to promote the new Afterschool Meal Program are just a few of the ways that District leaders are tackling hunger in our community.”
These efforts may be paying off as more people are learning about and benefiting from the federal nutrition programs. Participation in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) grew by 16 percent from August 2009 to August 2010, reaching more than 120,000 D.C. residents. The D.C. Healthy Schools Act includes some hunger-fighting provisions to ensure children access healthy meals at school; the act provides free breakfast for all students and makes lunch free for students who used to pay a reduced price.
“Hunger is a problem that can be solved, and the federal nutrition programs are a key part of that solution,” said Ashbrook. “The steps that D.C. is taking to end hunger should be applauded, and we encourage our leaders to keep building on these efforts.”