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New Tools to Help Fight for Responsible Budget Priorities

The latest Household Food Security Report from USDA was released last week. In 2016, over 41 million Americans struggled with hunger, a slight decline from 2015, but numbers remain higher than they did before the start of the recession.

According to the USDA report, hunger and food insecurity also declined slightly here in Washington State. In 2016, around 1 in 8 Washingtonians did not get enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. In the nation, Washington is firmly in the middle of the pack, ranking as the 25th hungriest state in the nation.

The USDA report is based on a telephone survey that asks a sample of Americans a series of 18 questions to determine how often and to what degree a household did not have enough resources to have enough food for everyone in the household. A household is considered “very low food secure” or to be experiencing “hunger” when the survey respondent reports frequent and severe incidents of not having enough food to live a healthy, active life.

Other key findings from the USDA report:

  • Hunger occurs at significantly higher rates in households with children.
  • The rate of hunger is more than two times higher in Black and Hispanic households compared to White households.
  • Hunger and food insecurity occur at significantly higher rates in rural communities compared to metro areas.

More information and analysis about the food insecurity rate in Washington will be available in the Hungry in Washington report, coming soon from the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition.

Earlier this week, the US Census Bureau reported that nationally, the poverty rate has seen its steepest decline since 1969: at 12.7%, there were 6 million fewer people living in poverty in 2016 than the year before and the United States is officially back to its pre-recession rate.

In Washington, the number of people living in poverty significantly decreased over the last year, but nonetheless, nearly 1 in 9 Washingtonians lived below the poverty line in 2016.

The declines in poverty is in part attributed to an overall increase in wages and the number of individuals who are working full-time positions. However, it is the Supplemental Poverty Measure which, unlike the official poverty measure, includes resources provided by SNAP (“food stamps”), the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing support, and other safety programs, which shows that the decline of poverty is also sharply attributed to these vital support programs. SNAP alone lifted 3.6 million people above the poverty line last year; without Social Security, 26 million more people would have lived in poverty last year. Housing support programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit lifted more than 12 million people out of poverty. All of this shows that safety net programs can and are making a real difference for people in need.

Nationally, poverty has also declined for Black/African American and Latinx/non-white Hispanic households, however at rates of 22% and 19.1% respectively, poverty for people of color is still more than two times higher than for White households (8.8%).

The new household food security and poverty data comes at an important time as Congress is considering making sweeping cuts and changes to important basic needs programs. Although a Continuing Resolution of the current spending package (signed as part of a package to provide disaster relief dollars for Hurricane Harvey and raising the debt ceiling) now gives Congress until Dec. 8 to pass a new spending package, both the House and the Senate could be bringing their budget plans to the floor for a vote in order to pass tax reform legislation. The House Budget Resolution calls for $200 billion in cuts to important entitlement programs like SNAP (“food stamps”) and school meals, a fast track process to pass sweeping policy changes to those programs in order to make those cuts, and slashes discretionary programs that provide basic needs and promote economic growth. It’s time to put this information to good use by showing our Congressional members the reality of how important these programs have been in lifting struggling families and individuals out of poverty and why they deserve deeper investments.