Shortly after Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported on the rapid rise of food stamp use across the country. Shockingly, there are 239 U.S. counties, from the Bronx to Appalachia, where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps. In the cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, the Times reported, fully half of all children receive food stamps. And it is in some of the nation's richest counties, like Forsyth County, Georgia and Orange County, California, where the use of food stamps is growing most quickly.
The spike in food stamp rolls has often followed industry busts, from the collapse of the recreational vehicle business in Elkhart County, Indiana to the slowdown in car parts manufacturing in northwest Ohio. In southwest Florida, food stamp use rose sharply along with high foreclosure rates.
One food bank volunteer quoted in the Times story was surprised to find that people seeking aid were "knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed. These are people I could be having lunch with."
The USDA's 2008 report on Household Food Security in the United States stated that 14.6% of American households were "food insecure" for at least part of the year, meaning that the diet of one or more family members was reduced or disrupted due to lack of money to buy food. This represents the highest rate of food insecurity since 1995, when such data was first collected.
In my home state of Connecticut, the Connecticut Food Bank notes that soup kitchens and food pantries it serves have reported an average 30% increase in demand for their services this year.
In my hometown, an affluent suburb in Fairfield County, Connecticut (population 26,000), there are not one, but two, food pantries which permit those in need to pick up groceries once a month. One of them is run by the Connecticut Food Bank, which expects to serve more than 300,000 residents this year. There is no income verification, unlike the federal food stamp program, where eligibility hinges on both income and savings. (I approached one of the food pantries, where I had volunteered several years prior, about volunteering once again when I lost my job last fall, but I was told they had all the volunteers they could use. The need for donations, of course, remains constant.)
Has hunger in your part of the world increased, decreased or remained about the same this past year? Have you ever participated in food stamp or food pantry programs and, if so, how much of an impact did it have on your family budget?
Hunger in America is Growing
December 7th, 2009 at 11:30 pm