Friday, December 19, 2008

New Survey: Nation's Food Banks Report Dramatic Increase in Demand for Emergency Food Assistance as Unemployment Rises and Economy Worsens

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Food banks across America are reporting a 30 percent increase in requests for emergency food assistance, according to a new survey conducted by Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger relief organization. At the same time, a new public opinion poll released today by the organization finds that many Americans are unable to provide adequate amounts of nutritious food to their families, due to the current economic crisis.

Feeding America urges Congress to pass economic recovery legislation that will offer desperately needed relief to both low-income Americans and the nation's food banks, as the recent surge in unemployment has pushed millions to the brink of hunger. Additional support for emergency feeding through food banks and longer term assistance through food stamps will also generate economic activity that will stimulate local economies as well as relieve the hunger caused by the recession.

Feeding America received responses from 160 of their 205 food bank members for the "local impact survey." It gauged increases in requests for emergency food assistance and how the nation's food banks are coping with the dramatic spike in current demands. The national poll was commissioned by Feeding America to assess the impact of the economic downturn on low-income households.

"The economy is affecting all Americans, but it is low-income Americans who are suffering the most," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "Skyrocketing unemployment rates, increasing food costs and high fuel prices for the majority of this year have put an unprecedented level of need on our food banks. Unemployment projections indicate that the situation is likely to get worse in the near future. Low-income Americans need increases in food stamps and our network needs more food from the federal government to ensure that we can keep feeding the millions of people turning to us for help."

More than 90 percent of food banks respondents cited increases in food prices and unemployment as the primary factors contributing to the increase in requests for emergency food assistance. More than 60 percent cited fuel, and 52 percent cited the inadequacy of food stamp benefits.

Seventy-two percent of food banks reported that they are not able to adequately meet the needs of their communities without adjusting the amount of food distributed - offering smaller amounts of food and groceries to those in need - or their operations.

"We are in a national crisis," said Escarra. "We have some food banks reporting as high as a 65 percent increase in need. There are record numbers of new men, women and children, who never thought they would need food assistance. Some of those seeking help are so unfamiliar with available emergency food assistance that they are having difficulties navigating how to access food."

Many low-income Americans, who are living just above the income eligibility threshold for the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (formerly named the Food Stamp Program), are experiencing food insecurity for the first time. In the public opinion poll, 63 percent of respondents reported that in the past year, their food didn't last and they could not afford to buy more. Forty percent ate less than they felt they should, and 36 percent cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there wasn't enough money for food. Forty percent reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past year. One in three food stamp recipients reported that their benefits only lasted for two weeks or less.

Additionally, the financial crisis is compromising low-income Americans' ability to access nutritious food at grocery stores. Nearly 70 percent of low-income respondents reported that they are cutting back on food spending and 62 percent reported having to make more shopping trips for food because they didn't have enough money to buy everything at one time.

"Winter is here, and we know that millions of families struggle between heating their homes and eating. This is not a choice that anyone in the United States of America should have to make, and too many more families are going to be faced with these decisions in the coming weeks. I urge the Congress to pass economic recovery legislation as soon as they return to Washington that brings hope to the 25 million Americans we feed each year," said Escarra.

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