U.S. Failed to Reduce ‘Food Insecurity’ Despite Spending Billions More

Levels of food insecurity not reduced by a statistically significant amount

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack / AP
September 6, 2013

Despite a $6 billion increase in food assistance spending, there was no reduction in the number of American households that are "food insecure," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA says its food programs "increase food security." However, the agency’s spending through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) increased by $6.4 billion from 2011 to 2012 with no statistically significant change in the level of food insecurity.

"Food and nutrition assistance programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) increase food security by providing low-income households access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education," the USDA said in a report released this week.

By the agency’s own measure the change in food insecurity from 2011 to 2012 was near zero.

According to the USDA, 14.5 percent of households faced food insecurity at least sometime during the year. "The change in food insecurity overall (from 14.9 percent in 2011) was not statistically significant," they said.

Additionally, the "very low food security" category remained unchanged (5.7 percent) from the previous year, and "food-insecure" children also remained the same (10 percent).

The FNS budget increased by billions in that timeframe.

In 2011, the FNS reported spending $107.5 billion  on its 15 food assistance programs. The 2012 budget estimate showed an increase to $113.9 billion.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) makes up the bulk of the FNS budget. The program spent $78.4 billion in 2012, a $2.7 billion increase from the previous year. An average of 46.6 million people were enrolled in the program each month.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said had it not been for food stamps, "food insecurity" would be on the rise.

"Food insecurity remains a very real challenge for millions of Americans," he said in a statement, Wednesday. "Today's report underscores the importance of programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that have helped keep food insecurity from rising, even during the economic recession."

Vilsack also urged against cuts to the food stamp budget, which has increased 108 percent since 2008.

Food stamp spending was $37.6 billion in 2008, but jumped to $53.6 billion in 2009. The program has continued to grow each year, reaching $78.4 billion in 2012.

"As the recovery continues and families turn to USDA nutrition programs for help to put good food on the table, this is not the time for cuts to the SNAP program that would disqualify millions of Americans and threaten a rise in food insecurity," Vilsack said.

The USDA based its findings on an annual Census Bureau survey, which asks 18 questions about a family’s eating habits to figure out if they are "food secure."

"In concept, ‘food secure’ means that all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life," the agency explains.

One of the survey questions reads: "‘We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.’

Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?"

Another question asks, "In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn’t enough money for food?"

"Very low" food security is defined in the report as "the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food."

Published under: Federal Bureaucracy , USDA