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USDA: More than 14 Percent of Idaho Households Struggle with Hunger

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Late last month, Boise Weekly reported on the myths and misconceptions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which in Idaho still goes by the Idaho Food Stamp Program moniker. In that article, we reported 100,000 households in Idaho rely on food stamps.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service released new data finding one in seven households in Idaho struggled with hunger from 2010 to 2012. That ranks Idaho at 24th in the nation. According to the USDA's report, it's on par with states like Colorado, Montana and Washington.

Nationwide nearly 50 million people lived in households considered food insecure in 2012--meaning they couldn't afford an adequate diet at all times.

"[Those numbers] are a bit higher than the years before, but we would have expected it to be a lot worse if it weren't for our Food Stamp Program responding in an incredible way," Kathy Gardner of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force told Boise Weekly. Idaho's percentage of food-insecure households went up 2.7 percent from the 2007 to 2009 period--a trend followed by all but five states in the country.

These new food insecurity numbers come as members of Congress prepare to return from their August recess. The House is expected to introduce a bill that would strip $40 billion in funding from SNAP.

"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," Gardner said in a press release.

Current SNAP monthly benefits average the equivalent of $4.50 a day per person, or $135 a month. The Institute of Medicine conducted a study arguing that's not enough for families to afford a healthy diet. And in November, temporary benefit increases approved in the 2009 Recovery Act will end, meaning $36 less in monthly food stamps for a family of four.

Among the 14 percent of Idaho households considered to be food insecure in this new data, 5.3 percent had "very low food security," meaning they had even more severe problems, experiencing deeper hunger, more cutbacks and skipping meals on a more regular basis for both adults and children. It's especially a problem among the elderly, 8.5 percent of whom live below the poverty line.