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Food Security and Nutrition Assistance

Since 1995, ERS has monitored the food security of U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey. While most U.S. households are food secure, a minority of U.S. households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by lack of money and other resources. Some experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity where food intake of one or more members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Reliable monitoring of food security contributes to the effective operation of USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs aimed at reducing food insecurity. Almost three-quarters of USDA’s total 2015 outlays went to these programs, which provided assistance to about 1 in 4 Americans in fiscal 2015.

Expenditures for USDA’s food assistance programs level off in 2015  
Federal expenditures for USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $104.1 billion in fiscal 2015, or about the same as the previous fiscal year. This was about 5 percent lower than the historical high of $109.2 billion set in fiscal 2013. Expenditures decreased slightly for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC in fiscal 2015, but increased by 5 percent for the School Breakfast Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and by almost 3 percent for the National School Lunch Program.
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Children accounted for 44 percent of SNAP participants in 2014  
In fiscal 2014, children accounted for 44.2 percent of all SNAP participants, nearly the same as in fiscal 2013 (44.4 percent). Children younger than five made up 13.9 percent of participants in fiscal 2014, down from 14.3 percent the prior year. Adults age 18-59 represented 45.7 percent of SNAP participants in fiscal 2014, compared with 46.4 percent in fiscal 2013. Adults age 60 and older’s share of the SNAP caseload grew from 9.3 percent in fiscal 2013 to 10.1 percent in fiscal 2014.
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Participation in SNAP varies across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies  
In fiscal 2015, SNAP served an average of 45.8 million people per month, or about 14 percent of Americans. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 16 to 21 percent. In fiscal 2015, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, and New Hampshire were the only States with 8 percent or less of their populations receiving SNAP benefits.
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The prevalence of food insecurity declined from 2011 to 2014  
In 2014, 86.0 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 14.0 percent of households—down from 14.9 percent in 2011—were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.6 percent (6.9 million households) that had very low food security. Food insecurity increased from 10.5 percent in 2000 to nearly 12 percent in 2004, declined to 11 percent in 2005-07, then increased to 14.6 in 2008.
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Food insecurity rates are highest for single mother households and lowest for elderly  
In 2014, about 40 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security. Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for single-parent households, and for Black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.    
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One in five households with children were affected by food insecurity in 2014  
Parents often shield children from experiencing food insecurity, particularly very low food security, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In 2014, 19.2 percent of households with children were food insecure. In about half of those food-insecure households with children, only the adults experienced food insecurity. In the other half, both children and adults were food insecure sometime during the year. In 1.1 percent of U.S. households with children (422,000 households) both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.      
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Prevalence of food insecurity is not uniform across the country  
Food insecurity rates differ across States due to both the characteristics of their populations and to State-level policies and economic conditions. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2012-14 ranged from 8.4 percent in North Dakota to 22.0 percent in Mississippi. (Data for 2012-14 were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level.)
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Last updated: Friday, June 03, 2016

For more information contact: Rosanna Mentzer Morrison