Almost 18 million families in the United States couldn’t get sufficient food to live healthily in 2012 according to the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual report on food insecurity.
The report, released Wednesday, shows that the pattern of elevated food insecurity since the financial crisis still continues. It found that 14.5 percent of U.S. families experienced food insecurity, which is defined as lacking “consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living.” An average of 11 percent of families were food insecure from 1998 to 2007, but in 2008 the rate spiked above 14 percent.
While critics of food aid point to the doubling of enrollment in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) as evidence that government safety net spending on food is too generous, the USDA statistics show that those programs could not absorb the full economic force of the Great Recession. Just 59 percent of food-insecure families from the USDA survey reported participating in either SNAP or the other two largest food aid programs.
Still, congressional Republicans (with the help of a handful of Democrats) have pushed to make the programs even less responsive to the spikes in need that come with spikes in poverty. The initial, failed House farm bill included $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP. GOP leaders then attempted to split the farm bill from food stamps, rendering the latter vulnerable. They now intend to cut SNAP by $40 billion over the next decade. The issue will have to be resolved by the end of September, when the current rules on farm subsidies, food aid, and myriad other agricultural matters expire.
While Wednesday’s report indicates food assistance programs are already too meager, there is little reason to think the statistics will change conservative minds. Conservatives in the media and in Congress continue to portray the program as dangerously broad and too expensive. Fox News has pushed that message during the summer Congressional recess through a special report called “The Great Food Stamp Binge.” Never mind that the program is more efficient and has less fraud than the aid to farm owners that the House managed to pass before its vacation.