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People line up to receive a free meal at the St. Anthony foundation dining room on September 16, 2010 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. poverty rate increased to a 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level since 1994.
About 15% of U.S. households, 17.4 million families, lacked enough money to feed themselves at one point last year; in California just over 14% of households suffered from “food insecurity” at one point during 2009. In the richest country in the world this large of a number of households that are wanting for food is never acceptable, but the problem is stabilizing somewhat as the economy limps toward a recovery—but there are bigger issues in the immediate future, most of them based on the funding of government programs, from food stamps to Medicare, that act as a vital safety net for the poorest and hungriest Americans. A federal law that covers the country’s school meals program is awaiting reauthorization from either a lame duck Congress or a new Republican majority hostile to these kinds of spending programs; stimulus money went to prop up food stamps last year and that extra funding is petering out; and budget cuts, both at the federal and state levels, threaten all kinds of nutritional sustenance programs. Even as the economy gets a little better might more Americans be going hungry?
Matthew Sharp, senior advocate in the L.A. office of the California Food Policy Advocates