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Millions of Americans Must Choose Between Food and Medical Needs, Housing and Heat

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At the end of one of the longest periods of economic growth in history, more Americans find themselves in need of food assistance.

Hunger in America 2001, a new study by America’s Second Harvest, revealed that 23.3 million people–or roughly 9 percent of all Americans–received food assistance last year. That is “nearly 2 million more people than sought similar services in 1997,” according to the report.
“Many emergency food recipients have to make difficult choices between food and other necessities,” read the report. Forty-five percent of recipients must choose between buying food or paying for utilities or heat. Others are forced to choose between buying food or making rent or mortgage payments (36 percent) or paying for medical care or medicine (30 percent).
Children comprised 9.3 million of the total figure. Senior citizens (aged 65 and older) numbered 2.5 million.
The study found that “increased requests for emergency food have occurred despite the strength of the economy over the past four years.”
“The data shows that hunger in America cannot be explained away as simply a problem of minorities or the inner-cities,” according to the report. “Neither is it a problem that can be accurately viewed as a homeless or voluntary dependence issue. Rather, hungry Americans are America’s vulnerable–women, children and the elderly, and many in rural areas, or individuals who suffer from disabilities.”
Nearly half, 44.9 percent, of adult recipients were White, non-Hispanic, while 35.4 percent were African American. The remaining numbers represent other minority groups.
Fewer than 10 percent of those served were homeless.
Nearly 15 percent of emergency food recipients live in rural areas and about 32 percent live suburban areas.
And “nearly 40 percent of the households that received assistance from us in 2001 included an adult who was working,” the report read. The problem remains that many of those who work are still at, or below, the poverty line.
The study surveyed 32,000 emergency food recipients and 23,000 local relief agencies.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.