A new report from Feeding America shows 50 million Americans rely on food banks and 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity. It also links substandard nutrition to health problems.
The report entitled "Hunger in America 2014" has revealed some startling statistics: One in seven Americans turns to a food bank for help, about 40 percent of whom have education beyond high school.
Mark Quandt, Executive Director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, confirms the type of person who utilizes emergency food resources has changed over the last three decades. "Back in the 80s and maybe early 90s, it was more people who were out of work, who were living in poverty, maybe lived in poverty for an extended period of time. Since that time, there's a lot more working class people, people who had previously even been middle class, who had been doing OK, who have just fallen upon hard times. And sometimes it’s short term, sometimes it’s longer term. But it does affect a lot of people who never really thought they would be in that situation."
Hunger-Free Vermont Executive Director Marissa Parisi says working people and those re-entering the workforce following the recession struggle harder to make ends meet: "While we see people getting back to work, they're still challenged with meeting their basic needs, because in the Northeast, in particular, it's very expensive to live here. It's high heating costs, high transportation costs, high housing costs."
The study says that food insecurity is causing a number of health issues. Nearly 50 percent of respondents to a query by the nationwide network of food banks collectively known as "Feeding America" reported being in poor health.
Mark Dunlea is Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State. "The report also highlights the relationship between poor nutrition, unhealthy food and medical problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. This was certainly one of the problems that remain in the recently re-enacted Farm Bill, that it promotes an unhealthy diet. We are encouraged that New York State has slowly begun to recognize the need to improve the nutritional value of food that is provided to the emergency food programs."
According to the report, 39 percent of clients who depend on food banks have at least one child in the family. Mark Quandt says the Regional Food Bank is meeting the challenges head-on, working with local farmers and the state to put in place programs to assist in accessing more donated food to help struggling families. "We also expect this year to increase the number of sites in our backpack program, that is a program that we have in schools where we provide the food for backpacks that the school itself will pack and give to children who are at risk of hunger on weekends, so that they have some additional food to carry them thru the weekends when school breakfasts and lunches are not available."
The kids get a backpack of food every Friday before dismissal. Hunger Action Network's Dunlea cites other factors complicating relief efforts. " A lot of the upstate cities, starting with Schenectady have more than half of our children officially living in poverty. One of the big problems of course we have in New York State is that we have higher energy costs than pretty much any place else in the country and also housing costs of course are very high. Particularly in the downstate area. Unemployment, people out of work or remains high, especially upstate, and a big problem is that our our minimum wage remains so far below the real cost of living. The reality is we need to probably double the minimum wage, in order to make it a living wage in New York."
Hunger activists do credit Governor Andrew Cuomo with making $4 million in additional funding for local food banks available at the end of last year to help New Yorkers who were being forced to cope with reduced federal (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, benefits.
The Feeding America report found 69 percent of client households regularly make hard choices between paying the utility bill or buying groceries.