BY JON WHITEN
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
About one in eight New Jersey households (12.1 percent) cannot afford to buy enough nutritious food, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture today. Of the 393,250 New Jersey households experiencing this food insecurity in 2010-2012, 149,500 experienced “very low” food security – meaning that one or more household members had to reduce their food intake.
The number of New Jersey households facing food insecurity has risen by 3.6 percentage points in the past decade, though the number has remained consistent (rising by 0.6 percent) since the 2007-2009 period, when the economic downturn and rising hardship began making it tougher for families to make ends meet. Nationwide, 17.6 million households (14.5 percent) faced food insecurity in 2012.
“These families struggling with hunger are all over our state. They’re folks you see in your town, at your grocery store or in your congregation. Simply put, far too many New Jersey families cannot make ends meet,” says New Jersey Policy Perspective president Gordon MacInnes. “This is further proof that this is no time to reduce food assistance for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable New Jerseyans.”
One of the most powerful weapons against hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). Over 800,000 New Jerseyans – about half of whom are children – use SNAP benefits to help put a basic diet on the table each day.
SNAP benefits are modest, providing less than $1.50 per person per meal. Even so, they have a significant impact in reducing poverty. In 2011 alone, SNAP helped lift 5.7 million Americans – including 2.1 million children – out of poverty, based on the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. This national measure, however, does not reflect the higher cost of living in New Jersey, meaning that “reducing poverty” is still not enough for many families to meet basic necessities.
Today’s data are yet another indication that the economy still has not yet fully recovered from the deep recession. Yet as early as next week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider legislation that would significantly cut SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years—potentially eliminating basic assistance for up to 6 million people, including children, seniors, the unemployed, veterans and working families. These cuts would come on top of an already scheduled cut in benefits for every SNAP recipient beginning November 1, when a modest boost to benefits, included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to help struggling Americans and boost the economy, expires. (http://www.njpp.org/reports/issue-brief-nearly-1-million-new-jerseyans-face-food-assistance-cut-in-november)
“SNAP provides a lifeline to people when they need it most, and today’s numbers show once again that deep cuts to the program make no sense,” MacInnes says. “The cuts would punish the unemployed who are using basic food assistance to feed their children while they look for work, the seniors having to choose between purchasing life-saving medication or eating sensibly, and the single mothers who are working but not making enough to put food on the table.”
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The USDA’s full report on food insecurity in 2012 can be found here: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err155.aspx#.UidapWSY5rh