A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms that hunger in Washington is on the rise as the effects of the recession take their toll on the state's families.
The survey's data were gathered in December, 2008, just as the economic downturn was taking root in Washington, and the results confirm what emergency food providers, advocates and those who run programs like food stamps have long suspected: More families and individuals are struggling to put food on the table.
Estimated Washington households that are food insecure, meaning there may not be enough to eat, rose to 288,000 in 2008, a 13 percent increase over the prior year. The rise in households that are hungry was even more striking: 112,000 Washington households met the definition for hunger (called "very low food insecurity" in the report), an increase of 24 percent.
"These numbers are even worse than we anticipated," said Linda Stone, senior food policy coordinator at the Children's Alliance. "Families will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure their children get something to eat, but this report shows that more and more families can't put food on the table no matter how hard they try."
Nationally, one in four children lived in households struggling with hunger. While the USDA report does not breakdown childhood hunger at the state level, the Children's Alliance estimates that 373,000 children live households that struggle to put food on the table on a regular basis.
"It is incumbent on federal and state lawmakers to meet this hunger crisis by bolstering programs proven to get food to families in need," Stone said. "Helping families meet their most basic needs will help all of us recover from this recession."
Immediate federal and state action is needed to address hunger and food insecurity as the economic downturn continues:
Congress should consider additional stimulus funding, starting with bolstering the food stamp program (called Basic Food in Washington.)
Congress should use the 2010 Child Nutrition Act reauthorization to strengthen programs that provide meals to kids in child care and in school, afterschool and in the summertime.
The Washington State Legislature must continue strategic investment in nutrition programs to expand access to more children particularly in the summertime when family budgets are most stretched. An allocation of $250,000 from the legislature can jumpstart summer meal programs in 10 to 12 communities, increase participation statewide to 70,000 kids and bring in an added $2 to 3 million in federal meal reimbursements.