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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. Over 70 percent of USDA’s total 2013 outlays went to these programs, which provided assistance to about 1 in 4 Americans in fiscal 2013.

The prevalence of food insecurity declined from 2011 to 2013  
In 2013, 85.7 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 14.3 percent of households—down from 14.9 percent in 2011—were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.6 percent (6.8 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 2013, about 42 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 2013  
Parents often shield children from experiencing food insecurity, particularly very low food security, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In 2013, 19.5 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 0.9 percent of U.S. households with children (360,000 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 2011-13 ranged from 8.7 percent in North Dakota to 21.2 percent in Arkansas. (Data for 2011-13 were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level.)    
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Increases in spending for USDA’s food assistance programs slow  
Federal expenditures for USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $108.9 billion in fiscal 2013—a 2-percent increase from the previous fiscal year and the smallest in percentage terms since fiscal 2000. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accounted for 73 percent of food assistance spending in 2013. After more than doubling over fiscal years 2008 to 2011, expenditures for SNAP increased by only 2 percent in fiscal 2013.
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Children accounted for about 45 percent of SNAP participants in 2012  
In addition to SNAP’s tremendous growth, the composition of the SNAP caseload has shifted somewhat between children and nonelderly adults. In fiscal 2012, children represented 44.5 percent of all SNAP participants, down from 49.2 percent in 2006, while adults age 18-59 accounted for 46.4 percent of participants in 2012 and 42.1 percent in 2006. Elderly participants’ share of the SNAP caseload was relatively stable over the period at 9.0 percent in 2012 and 8.7 percent in 2006.
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Participation in SNAP varies across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies  
In fiscal 2013, SNAP served an average of 47.6 million people per month, or about 15 percent of Americans. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 17 to 22 percent. In 2013, Wyoming and North Dakota were the only States with less than 8 percent of the population receiving SNAP benefits.
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Last updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2014

For more information contact: Rosanna Mentzer Morrison