Florida fourth in nation for ‘food hardship,’ group says

Aug 12, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on August 12, 2011:

Florida fourth in nation for “food hardship,” group says

By Catherine Whittenburg

Nearly one out of three Florida families, and 27 percent of those in the Tampa-Bay area, are struggling to put enough food on their tables, according to a new study released on Thursday.

Florida ranks fourth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. for the rate at which its families were unable to afford enough food in 2010, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit group that advocates for government policies to end hunger.

The group conducted its study based on a Gallup poll of more than 1 million households. Respondents were deemed to be suffering from “food hardship” if they answered “yes” when asked, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

Florida’s food hardship rate for families with children is 30 percent, compared with a 23 percent nationwide average. Nationwide, 21 states had rates higher than 25 percent, though Florida was one of only four with a rate of 30 percent or higher.

“The data in this report show that food hardship – running out of money to buy the food that households need – is a substantial challenge in every corner of this country,” wrote Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

Locally, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranked 28th among the country’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas for households not able to afford enough food.

The findings did not surprise Keyiuna Anderson, a site supervisor at the Wilbert Davis Boys and Girls Club in East Tampa, one of 91 sites around Hillsborough County that serves free meals during the summer to disadvantaged children.

A 28-year-old expectant mother from Seffner, Anderson said that she, too, relies on the program to help feed her own children. “As much as it’s helped me, I can only imagine how much it’s helping these other parents,” she said. “A lot of our parents are out of work; many are being laid off. Many even come here now asking regularly if we are hiring, do we know of anyone who is hiring.”

The summer food program, which relies on federal funding, served 11,569 meals per day in Hillsborough over three months in summer 2010. It is one of several government anti-hunger programs that the Food Research and Action Center hopes to convince Congress to preserve, even as Congress seeks to cut spending.

Earlier this year, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott opted to transfer authority over another government food program, free and reduced school lunches, from the state Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida Impact director Debra Susie and other state anti-hunger advocates said they hope Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will improve the state’s rate of automatically certifying children in food stamp-eligible families for the school lunch program.

“The high rate of food hardship for Florida families is an unfortunate statistic we are seeing rise through the economic instability of our country,” said Putnam spokesman Sterling Ivey.  “We want every child to eat more healthy school meals, and will explore every opportunity to automatically enroll (food stamp)-eligible children in the school feeding program.”

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