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News Release

Release No. 0575.09
USDA Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

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Economic Research Service Report Demonstrates Need for Action

Listen to audio of Secretary Vilsack's media conference call.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2009 - USDA's Economic Research Service's (ERS) today released its annual report on Household Food Security in the U.S., which revealed that in 2008, 17 million households, or 14.6 percent, were food insecure and families had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year. This is an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, in 2007. The 2008 figures represent the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995. The full study is available at

"The Obama Administration has put in place unprecedented measures to promote job creation and combat hunger in our Nation, a problem that the American sense of fairness should not tolerate and American ingenuity can overcome, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The Department of Agriculture's nutrition assistance programs provide a safety net that improves food access to those with critical needs, but addressing the root of hunger requires a broader strategy. By improving access to federal nutrition programs and working with our partners at all levels of government and society, we can make progress in our effort to reduce and eventually eliminate childhood hunger."

This year's report also reveals that one third of food insecure households had very low food security (food intake of some household members was reduced and their eating patterns disrupted at times during the year). This is 5.7 percent of all U.S. households or about 6.7 million. This is up from 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007, and the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995.

Even when resources are inadequate to provide food for the entire family, children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security. However, children as well as adults experienced instances of very low food security in 506,000 households (1.3 percent of households with children) in 2008, up from 323,000 households (0.8 percent of households with children) in 2007.

The fundamental cause of food insecurity and hunger in the United States is poverty - marked by a lack of adequate resources to address basic needs such as food, shelter and health care. The Obama Administration has taken aggressive action on these fronts through the expansion of critical services for Americans most in need. The historic investments of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with a focus on long-term job creation, are a major part of this effort. The Recovery Act provides tax relief for working families, job training, unemployment insurance, income support and affordable housing to needy Americans and their children.

A central part of the Recovery Act included a significant increase in nutrition assistance benefits for the 36.5 million people (half of whom are children) who participate in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. It also provides resources to the state agencies that administer the program, helping them to deal efficiently with increased caseloads.

"As the Obama Administration works to foster a robust recovery for all, it's important to recognize that we have another opportunity to improve the health and nutrition of our children when Congress begins to debate the Child Nutrition Reauthorization," said Vilsack. "It is vital that we make it easier for families and administrators to bring eligible children into the program and to eliminate gap periods when children struggle to find the nutrition assistance they need - at breakfast, during summer, and in after-school settings."

USDA's National School Lunch program serves 31 million children a healthy meal each school day - for some children in need, this is their most important meal that day. USDA is working with states to increase the use of technology to make low-income children whose families already receive SNAP automatically certified for free school meals and to promote policies that make it easier for eligible families to participate in SNAP. Also, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC program, ensures mothers and their children have access to nutritious options as well. Nearly half of all infants in this country participate in WIC.

"During challenging economic times, the pool of those in need of vital food assistance expands," said Vilsack. "USDA's role - along with our partners - is to ensure individuals do not fall through the cracks, and can access nutritional services with dignity and respect."


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