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Report: 20 percent of Arkansas households struggle with hunger


LITTLE ROCK — An average of one out of every five households in Arkansas had difficulty putting food on the table between 2010 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s annual report on food insecurity.

The USDA said in the report released Wednesday that 19.7 percent of Arkansas households — the second highest percentage in the nation after Mississippi’s 20. 9 percent — were considered food insecure, meaning that at some time in the course of a year the households had difficulty providing enough food for all their members because of limited resources. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.45 percentage points.

Of those households, 8.1 percent — the highest percentage in the nation — had “very low” food security, meaning that the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times.

Nationwide, 14.7 percent of households were food insecure on average in 2010-2012, with 5.6 percent of the households experiencing very low food security, according to the report. The margin of error is plus or minus o.24 percentage points.

USDA researchers also found:

— Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, households with children headed by single women or single men, and black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas and exurban areas around large cities.

— Typically, households classified as having very low food security experienced the condition in seven months of the year, for a few days in each of those months, according to the report.

— The typical food-secure household spent 26 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition, including food purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

— Fifty-nine percent of food-insecure households reported that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC; and the National School Lunch Program.

Kathy Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said Wednesday the report highlights the need to maintain the SNAP program. The Republican-controlled U.S. House has passed a proposed farm bill that includes no SNAP funding and is expected to propose a separate bill that would slash SNAP funding by up to $40 billion.

“Given the level of food insecurity that continues to persist in this state, Congress needs to stop asking how much to cut from SNAP and other low-income programs and start acting on what is going to help struggling families. Far too many people in our state continue to struggle with hunger, and we urge our members of Congress to pass a farm bill that doesn’t cut SNAP,” Webb said in a news release.