While Oregon's hunger rate remains high, it's finally beginning to budge in the right direction - down, according to the Household Food Security in the United States report, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Oregon's hunger rate rose during the Great Recession as did the rate of many other states," said Mark Edwards, associate professor of sociology at the Oregon State University School of Public Policy. "Though our improvement last year was small, under the harsh conditions of the Great Recession, we avoided getting worse. And that's good news."
OREGON'S HUNGER RATE DECREASES SLIGHTLY
The USDA measures food insecurity every year through a series of up to 18 survey questions that ask U.S. households about their ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life for all members.
* About 13.6 percent of households in Oregon - more than 491,000 Oregonians - equivalent to the entire population of Marion and Polk counties -- suffered food insecurity in 2009-2011. That means they lacked consistent access to adequate amounts of nutritious food. That compares to 13.7 percent during the 2008-10 period.
* About 5.9 percent of households in Oregon - more than 213,000 individuals - equivalent to 11 packed Rose Garden Arenas - suffered very low food security - also known as hunger - in 2009-2011. They ate less, skipped meals or sometimes went without food for entire days. That compares to the 6.1 percent rate for 2008-10.
HOW WE DID IT
"Oregon's ability to hold the line on food insecurity rates in 2011 reflects the efforts of both the private and the public sector to fight hunger on all fronts," said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. "Oregon is fortunate to have a statewide plan to address hunger. Ending Hunger Before it Begins: Oregon's Call to Action, shows that collaborative efforts do make a difference."
"Also key was the collaboration and common purpose of the Oregon Food Bank Network that distributed more than 80 million pounds of food throughout Oregon and Clark County, Washington ... an all-time high level of emergency food support," said Janeen Wadsworth, interim CEO, Oregon Food Bank.
"We're particularly proud of the combined work of state agencies, nonprofits and volunteers to enroll eligible families in SNAP - the first line of defense against hunger," she said. "One in five Oregonians participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps)."
PROGRESS IN JEOPARDY
"While that progress is worth applauding, it's all in jeopardy if the proposed cuts to SNAP looming in Congress become reality," Wadsworth noted.
"We're not out of the woods yet," she said. "Once families lose their jobs, savings and homes, it can take years to get back on their feet again. Moreover, the high cost of food, gas, utilities and rent is making it even more difficult to cover basic expenses."
"SNAP is the only targeted government program we have that provides food dollars to all members of families with low incomes," said Whitney-Wise. "During the recession, we saw SNAP participation increase in Oregon, reflecting the critical need for food resources. SNAP is vital for millions of Americans."
"The only way to adequately address hunger in the U.S. is through strong private and public partnerships," Wadsworth said. "The Oregon Food Bank Network is blessed with tremendous support from Oregonians and businesses throughout Oregon and beyond. Even so, our network is straining to meet the unprecedented demand for emergency food. The proposed cuts to SNAP (included in the farm bill) would greatly increase the number of Oregonians seeking emergency food and would simply overwhelm our network.
"We are doing our part. Congress must do its part and adequately fund SNAP," she urged.
To report food insecurity in each state, USDA uses data from a three-year period to compensate for limited sample sizes and to better estimate the number of households experiencing hunger. Thus, the state data include people's experience with hunger from January 2009 through December 2011.
COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEARS
"Oregon's hunger rate jumped between 2003 and 2007 - from 4 percent to 6.6 percent -- but then remained steady - in the low 6s - while the U.S. rate has steadily increased over that time," Edwards stated. "Oregon's hunger and food insecurity rates now more closely resemble the rates for the U.S. as a whole, but this is because the conditions in the rest of the country in the past few years deteriorated to an even greater degree than in Oregon, bringing the national numbers closer to Oregon's high numbers."
"We continue to see evidence of the struggles facing many people in our state," said Whitney-Wise. "Teachers see kids in their classroom regularly come to school hungry as shown in a report released by Share Our Strength in August. Hungry students lack concentration and struggle with poor academic performance, behavioral problems and health issues. We should celebrate our success in weathering the recent economic storm, but we must continue our efforts to prevent hunger before it begins and protect our safety net for those need it."
"Congress must do its part to protect our nation's safety net against deficit cutting measures," said Wadsworth, "There is a reason that every bipartisan deficit reduction plan until now has kept food assistance programs, such as SNAP, intact and protected from cuts. Weakening these programs would cause irreparable harm to low-income people, particularly children."
HOW TO HELP
* Write your U.S. Senator or Representative now and tell them we need to maintain SNAP
* Read Oregon's plan, Ending Hunger Before it Begins, at www.oregonhunger.org
* Donate funds.
* Donate food.
* Visit www.oregonfoodbank.org or www.oregonhunger.org for more ways to help.
KEY NATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
According to USDA's Household Food Security in the United States, 2011, report:
* 17.9 million (14.9 percent) households in America suffered food insecurity. In 2010, 17.2 million households (14.5 percent) were considered food insecure.
* 6.8 million (5.7 percent) American households suffered very low food security (also known as hunger). This compares to 5.4 percent in 2010.
* 3.9 million (10 percent) American households with children were food insecure. This compares to 9.8 percent in 2010.
Access the full report at: www.ers.usda.gov