17 million Americans without enough food

WASHINGTON — The number of poor Americans who repeatedly ran short of food shot up by 800,000 in 2011 to nearly 17 million compared with 2010, the US government said yesterday.

The Department of Agriculture said in a report that about 5.5 per cent of Americans, or nearly 17 million, suffered “very low food security” last year, meaning they had to skip meals or not eat for a day because of a lack of money to buy food. That is a rise of 800,000 over the prior year, it said.

The food-security report was released one day after the government said that a record 46.7 million Americans were enrolled for food stamps in June, up by 173,000 in May.

High unemployment and slow growth since the deep 2008-2009 recession has driven enrollment in food stamps to record levels.

The cost of food aid to the poor is an election-year issue, with Republicans calling for large cuts in food stamps and Medicaid to help reduce the deficit. Democrats say the cuts are too deep.

This year is likely to be even more problematic for hunger prevention because jobless benefits are running out for tens of thousands of long-term unemployed workers.

The overall food-insecurity rate for individuals was 16.4 per cent, almost unchanged since 2008, when it surged to the highest levels since the Agriculture Department began monitoring food security in 1995.

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