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September 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Farm bill stuck in Congress can feed hungry children

Donna Grethen/Op Art

Donna Grethen/Op Art

Amid the cheerful back-to-school stories and pictures of happy schoolchildren comes sobering news about the state of  hunger in America. A lengthy report can be condensed to the disappointing news that high rates of hunger and food insecurity continue unabated.

Data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the number of hungry people in America unchanged. An estimated 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food to lead active, healthy lives. The change from 14.9 percent in 2011 is not statistically significant.

In Washington state, more than 160,000 families skip meals on a regular basis. At 6.1 percent of the population, this state’s hunger rate from 2010 through 2012 is about the same as the all-time high of 6.2 percent in 2009-2011. The nonprofit Children’s Alliance estimates that 400,000 children – about 1 in 4 – live in food-insecure households. A national comparison shows Washington ranked 15th among the 50 states in the number of families experiencing hunger, and 22nd in the number experiencing food insecurity.

There is one solution: robust and consistent access to nutritious food. Keeping the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as part of U.S. farm policy is the best route as this Seattle Times editorial explains.

“This is not the time for cuts to the SNAP program that would disqualify millions of Americans and threaten a rise in food insecurity,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

It is anyone’s guess what effect the USDA’s annual review of hunger in American households will have on a Congress preoccupied with war. At the very least it ought to change the tone of debate on nutrition policy and the Farm Bill.

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