An Internet Guide to Food/Nutrition/Hunger Research,by Rebekah Park GENERAL INFORMATION ON HUNGER
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the most logical place to start your research. It is considered to be the most authoritative resource on hunger, and has several publications on all of the federal food assistance programs, including statistics. The FNS website provides background information on all of the nutrition assistance programs administrated by the USDA: Women, Infant and Children (WIC), The Food Stamp Program (FSP), School Meals, Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Food Assistance for Disaster Relief, and Food Distribution. You can also access current legislation and regulation on each of these programs.
There are several documents produced by the Economic Research Service of the USDA that provide statistics and survey descriptions. A document you might find useful is the one explaining how hunger is measured. Data on hunger and food insecurity is collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, in a fashion similar to, but not a replicate of, data on income, population, or employment. The second document that warrants attention is The Household Food Insecurity in the United States, 2002, which has the most recent data on how many people experience hunger and/or food insecurity, geographical and demographic information. This USDA report includes food insecurity and hunger rates for every state, based on three-year averages. More specifically, you will find a national ranking of states with the highest food insecurity rates. For example, Utah, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, are the six states with the highest hunger rates.
Other useful fact sheets include the Urban Institute's briefings on racial disparities and food hardship:
Trends in Parents' Economic Hardship
Race, Ethnicity, and Economic Well-Being
Race, Ethnicity, and Health
PUBLIC POLICIES AND RESEARCH STUDIES
For general policy information on domestic hunger issues, begin with the Food and Research Action Center, a national, non-profit and non-partisan research and public policy center. FRAC's comprehensive site provides basic facts on hunger, information on all of the federal food programs, current news and analyses, publications, and a weekly news digest. FRAC is one of the leading organizations working to improve public policies to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the U.S.
Another helpful source on policy and research studies is the Center on Hunger and Poverty of Brandeis University, which has research and policy analysis, public education initiatives, and assistance to policy makers and organizations across the country on poverty and hunger-related issues. The Center also hosts the Food Security Institute which serves as the national clearinghouse for food and food insecurity studies conducted across the U.S., and produces strategic analyses and reports on hunger and food insecurity.
The USDA provides resources on the web for researchers searching for publications and statistical data who are interested in finding
1. Research conducted by the Food & Nutrition Service's Office of Analysis, Nutrition & Evaluation; 2. Data on participation produced by FNS's Program Information Division; and 3. Data on maximum allotments, income limits and allowable deductions.
If you are looking for a think tank, Food First - The Institute for Food and Development Policy is a progressive member-supported, education for action center that produces books, articles, films, electronic media, curricula, lectures, workshops, and academic courses for the public, students, policy makers, activists, and researchers. Through their website, you can find more links to research and hunger organizations.
THE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM
The primary food assistance program you will most likely come across is the Food Stamp Program. It is the only federal entitlement program available nationwide, regardless of their age or family composition. It is regarded as the first line of defense and meets needs accordingly. Thus, if need increases or decreases, funding is disbursed accordingly.
The most recent changes to the FSP occurred in 1996 and 2002. In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which denied Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and food stamp benefits for people convicted of a drug-related felony after August 22, 1996. States are able to "opt out" or modify the ban by specific reference in law enacted after August 22, 1996. Since then, 12 states and the District of Columbia have fully opted out of the lifetime ban on food stamps. People with former drug felony convictions are the ones who are federally excluded from food assistance. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have rejected the lifetime ban. Washington state recently passed an anti-hunger omnibus bill, "The Act for Hungry Families," that lifted the federal ban on people with former drug felony convictions.
There is a considerable amount of contention around the federal lifetime ban on food stamps for people with former drug felony convictions because of racial disparities in convictions, arrests, and felonies. The ACLU Drug Litigation Project has several position papers addressing the racial justice and collateral damage related to drug convictions and access to basic needs such as food and cash assistance.
In 2002, President Bush signed into law the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Farm Bill) which includes, as title IV, the Food Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2002. This law added $6.4 billion dollars (over the span of 10 years), expanded eligibility for some groups, and most importantly, gave states the flexibility to implement options that would increase accessibility and participation. To find out which provisions your state has adopted, refer to the State Options Report.
For more information on the FSP, check the Food and Research Action Center's Basic Facts and Data.
There are several organizations that provide financial and organizing assistance for local communities. Many religious groups are involved in the anti-hunger movement and help churches and local leaders identify and solve specific problems in the community or utilize their religious communities as a source for mobilization. Two of the most well-known religiously affiliated groups are MAZON and Bread for the World.
If you are a community activist looking for grassroots support visit RESULTS, a nonprofit grassroots advocacy organization committed to creating the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty. The RESULTS Educational Fund hosts public forums, trains citizens in democracy, holds media conference calls to share the latest information, and produces quality oversight research to determine the effectiveness of programs for the poor. World Hunger Year has a centralized national database of innovative organizations working on food, nutrition, and agriculture issues across the country. This site acts as a liaison between government agencies and people working on the grassroots level by communicating information on upcoming legislation and federal funding opportunities to its database members. In addition, don't forget to look into local or state organizations, such as the Rural Organizing Project located in Oregon. ROP is a statewide organization composed of locally based groups that helps to organize activists in rural areas around issues like hunger and poverty.
If you are searching for an education program to educate community members about hunger in your state, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has a "Hunger 101" interactive education program that addresses issues of hunger, food security, and poverty on the national, state, and local levels. They have five free curricula modules that include complete, detailed lesson plans and appendices with supplemental materials for lessons as well as additional readings on hunger. The modules are divided into topics and target age groups. ACFB has also produced a board game, "Feast or Famine the Food Security Board Game," as a creative way to teach children about hunger ($30).
For information concerning rural communities, agriculture and food security, check out Changing Attitudes, Changing America's Food System: Integrated Farming Systems Initiative Phase 2 Lessons Learned. This document seeks to help farmers adopt more integrated and resource-efficient farming systems and to assist farmers and others in rural communities to address the barriers associated with integrated farming systems.
It is important to keep in mind that advocates for housing and healthcare are also key players in the anti-hunger movement, and should also be utilized within the local community.
HUNGER RELATED TO HOUSING PROBLEMS
Housing costs are among the major contributors to food insecurity and hunger. A recent report by the ECONorthwest found that the high hunger rates in the Northwest states such as Oregon and Washington were due to unaffordable housing, further exacerbated by unemployment rates. Due to high housing costs, families do not have enough money to pay for food once all of their bills are paid, or else they lose their homes and ultimately their support networks that would otherwise help them get through rough transitions. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies reported that 3 in 10 U.S. Households have affordability problems. 14.3 million are severely cost burdened (50% of their incomes are spent on housing). 9.3 million households live in overcrowded units or housing classified as physically inadequate.
To illustrate the financial constraints upon families with high housing costs, consider a full-time minimum wage earner in Washington state ($7.01/hr.) who has a yearly income of $14,580. Considering the fact that the fair market rent for a two bedroom unit is $788.month, it is nearly impossible for a minimum wage earner to afford such housing when they can only pay $365 dollars a month at most. Unless they work 86 hours per week or make $15.1/hour, living in a two bedroom modest home is simply not a reality. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies identifies two realistic solutions to the widespread housing problem throughout the nation: 1.) Preserving and sustaining a supply of exiting low-income housing and 2.) Providing housing subsidies as developers simply cannot afford to build and operate units at rents low-income people can afford. For more information check out these websites:
Housing and Urban Development
Joint Center for Housing Studies
National Low-income Housing Coalition
U.S. Census Information, Income and Poverty Statistics
GLOSSARY OF FEDERAL FOOD ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
Food Stamp Program (FSP) - This program is considered to be the single most important federally funded program because it can respond to local and national needs. For example, if there is a hurricane in South Florida and more Floridians find themselves in need of food assistance, then the fund for Food Stamps will respond accordingly. A common misperception is that food stamps are intended to provide an entire month's worth of food. The program's true purpose is to improve the level of nutrition, but not to provide the entire food budget.
The following programs are reimbursed for free/reduced price and paid meals:
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) - This program reimburses family childcare homes, childcare centers, head Start programs, school-age childcare sites, and family day care homes for nutritious meals and snacks served to children.
National School Lunch (NSL) - This program reaches out to students who might otherwise not enjoy a nutritious lunch. These meals do meet federal nutrition requirements and may often serve as the child's only source of food.
School Breakfast Program (SBP) - Similar to the lunch program, these meals ensure that kids start the day with food in their stomachs, increasing their chance of arriving to school on time, paying closer attention in class and, most importantly, socially interacting with other kids on the playground.
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) - When summer rolls around, many students lose their only source of food. Many families are dependent on both the school breakfast and lunch programs and as a result, more kids go hungry. Schools, camps, community-based organizations and churches are a few of the participants in the program where children can access food.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) - This program is a preventative nutrition program that provides nutritious foods, education on nutrition and access to health care to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children at nutritional risk.
Rebekah Park is a PRRAC Research Associate.
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