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Nov-15-2010 18:48printcomments

Latest USDA Hunger Report Shows Hunger Crisis Continues in Oregon

Homeless man in Portland, Oregon, Salem-News.com photo by Tim King
Homeless man in Portland, Oregon, Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(Corvallis, Oregon) - Hunger in Oregon continued to hover far above the national average as the Great Recession battered Oregon's economy, according to the 2009 hunger report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Oregon, once again, remains among the top five hungriest states in the nation, as it was last year. About 13.9 percent of households more than half-a-million Oregonians suffered food insecurity. And 6.6 percent of households more than 225,000 individuals -- suffer very low food security or hunger.

Food-insecure households had difficulty providing enough food for their family because they lacked resources. About a third of food-insecure households suffer very low food security (hunger), which means they cut or skipped meals, sometimes for whole days, because they didn't have enough money or other resources for food.

"No one should be hungry," said Rachel Bristol, CEO, Oregon Food Bank. "Hunger affects a child's ability to learn and a worker's ability to be productive. Ultimately, it affects everyone in our society. Working together, we can eliminate hunger and its root causes," said Bristol. "It's not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense."

"The bad economy has taken a hard toll on Oregonians. The unemployment rate remains high, along with home foreclosures and other indicators that families are struggling," said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. "This report shows us that Oregonians are choosing to go without food to pay for needs such as housing, healthcare and childcare."

"Although we are among the hungriest states in the nation, we kept the hunger rate lower than predicted," said Mark Edwards, associate professor of sociology, Oregon State University, who has been tracking Oregon's hunger and food insecurity rate for the last decade.

Oregon Food Bank and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon credit federal stimulus programs, such as SNAP, WIC and child feeding programs for mitigating hunger and keeping it from soaring even higher during a time of record-high unemployment and foreclosures.

Oregon Food Bank and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon encourage Congress to maintain investments in food and nutrition programs, including SNAP (food stamps) and TEFAP (emergency food assistance).

"Our legislators will face difficult choices this upcoming session, but few will be more important than protecting our most vulnerable citizens and investing in programs that help families remain stable while the economy improves," said Whitney-Wise. "We also strongly urge Congress to finish its work this week on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization," said Bristol.

"These programs provide nutritious food to our children through school meals, summer feeding programs and WIC (Women Infants and Children). Last year, half of all Oregon students qualified for free and reduced price meals. They are important public investments that provide nutritious food while preventing hunger," said Whitney-Wise.

The 2009 USDA report shows the dramatic increase in hunger in Oregon since the recession. According to the report:

13.9 percent of Oregon households - more than 500,000 individuals - experienced food insecurity, meaning that these households lack consistent access to adequate amounts of nutritious food. That compares to 11.9 percent during the 2004-06 period - a 2 percentage point increase.

An average of 6.6 percent of Oregon households - more than 225,000 individuals --, experienced times when they were hungry but did not eat because there was not enough money for food. That compares to 4.4 percent in 2004-06, a 2.2 percentage point increase, considered a statistically significant increase. These households fall into a group technically called "very low food security," better known as "hunger." These households ate less, skipped meals or sometimes went without food for entire days.

To report food insecurity in each state, USDA uses data from a three-year period to compensate for limited sample sizes and give a better estimate of the number of households experiencing hunger - thus state data are an average for 2007-09.

Each year, the Census Bureau measures food insecurity through a series of survey questions that ask about the ability of households to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life for all members.

Food security - access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life - is necessary for a population to be healthy and well-nourished.

National figures
National food insecurity and very-low-food-security (hunger) rates remained virtually unchanged between 2008 and 2009, according to the report. But numbers for those years remain higher than at any time since 1995 when the USDA began measuring food insecurity and hunger. More than 50 million Americans were food insecure in 2009.

Nationally, 14.7 percent (more than 50 million households) Americans, including nearly 17.2 million children, lived in households that were food insecure in 2009 - basically unchanged from 14.6 percent in 2008 the previous year.

Nationally, the hunger rate dropped during the final 30-day period - from mid-November to mid-December from 3.6 in 2008 to 3.3 percent in 2009 as federal stimulus food and nutrition programs began to kick in.

"This shows that the food and nutrition safety net is working as intended and helped lessen the blow," said Kevin Concannon, under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, USDA.

Key national highlights:
-In 2009, 50.2 million (16.6%) Americans lived in food insecure households.
-In 2009, 17.4 million (14.7 %) American households were food insecure.
-In 2009, 8.4 million (21.3%) households with children were living in food insecure households.
-In 2009, 17.2 million (23.2%) children were living in food insecure households.
-In 2009, 2.2 million (7.5%) households with seniors were living in food insecure households.
-In 2009, 884,000 (7.8%) seniors living alone were living in food insecure households.
The full report can be accessed at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR108/ERR108.pdf

OSU Sociology and Public Policy Professor Mark Edwards has been tracking Oregon's hunger and food insecurity rate for the last decade. According to Edwards, "These numbers are based on sophisticated survey and measurement methods and there's every reason to regard them as accurate."

His recent research on SNAP (food stamp) participants in Oregon shows that many formerly full-time workers and families with two parents have been experiencing food insecurity for the first time. In Oct. 2010, more than 735,000 Oregonians received SNAP, serving one in five.

About Oregon Food Bank - www.oregonfoodbank.org.
Oregon Food Bank is a nonprofit, charitable organization. It is the hub of a statewide network of more than 947 local partner agencies serving Oregon and Clark County, Wash. OFB recovers food from farms, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, individuals and government sources. It then distributes that food to 20 regional food banks across Oregon. Sixteen are independent charitable organizations. OFB directly operates the four regional food banks serving the Portland metropolitan area, southeast Oregon and Tillamook County. Those four centers distribute food weekly to 352 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs helping low-income individuals in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Clark, Washington, Harney, Malheur and Tillamook counties. OFB also works to eliminate the root causes of hunger through advocacy and public education.

About Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon - www.oregonhunger.org
Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to aid and complement the work of the Oregon Hunger Task Force in strengthening Oregon's families and communities. Together, they work to end hunger before it begins by addressing the root causes. Their common goal is to build family economic stability and food security so all Oregonians have sufficient means and ready access to nutritious, quality food. They provide critical leadership to address hunger through the 5-year plan, Ending Hunger Before it Begins: Oregon's Call to Action 2010-2015.

About OSU Master of Public Policy Program oregonstate.edu/cla/mpp/ Since 2003, the Master of Public Policy Program at OSU has graduated more than 50 researchers and advocates who now work for local, state, and federal government, for international governing bodies and for nonprofit groups around the country.

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