By Whitney Jones
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) The number of Americans struggling with hunger remained stable in 2009 despite the economic downturn, but remained at the highest recorded level, according to new federal figures.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released statistics Monday (Nov. 15) that showed one in seven American households could not buy adequate food last year due to lack of money and other resources.
The number of people suffering from "food insecurity" increased only one-tenth of a percentage point from 2008, but that number is almost more than 4 percentage points higher than it was 10 years ago, and the highest since 1995.
"It could be worse," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of the ecumenical anti-hunger group Bread for the World, in an interview with CNN. "I was struck that the numbers did not increase from the end of 2008 to the end of 2009."
The poverty rate increased by 3.8 million people -- a little more than 1 percent -- during the same time frame, according to a Census Bureau report released in September.
The three largest federal nutrition programs -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; and the National School Lunch Program -- have all seen an increase in need, the USDA said.
More than half of food-insecure households participated in at least one of these assistance programs, according to the report, with SNAP showing the sharpest increase (5.3 million people) in average monthly participation.
Hunger was more prevalent in large cities than in rural areas and suburbs, and was substantially higher in black and Hispanic families.
Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for the USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, said the USDA anticipates 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."