According to a new USDA study, 85 percent of American households are considered "food secure," meaning that they don't need to regularly worry about putting meals on the dinner table. Unfortunately, that leaves fifteen percent—about 17 million families—who struggle to find enough money to pay for their food. This number of "insecure" households has tripled since 2006 and the number of citizens enrolled in government food programs is now at 25 percent of all Americans. The study, which attributes some of these disconcerting statistics to unemployment due to the lingering recession, was released as the "lame duck" session of Congress begins.

  • The Report: Food Stamp Program Ensured That More Americans Didn't Go Hungry  The number of Americans who struggled getting enough to eat would have risen this year if the food stamp program hadn't absorbed those citizens. NPR's Pam Fessler reports that "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — which food stamps are now called — have become pretty mainstream over the past year and a half. Forty-two million Americans, or 1 in 8, now use them....And it's not only food stamps. About a million more children got free and reduced-price meals at school last year."
  • A Highlight: The Worst Statistic in the Study  GOOD magazine contributor Alex Goldmark notes that there may be a few hidden silver linings in the study, but there's at least one dire statistic: "The study also found that 6.7 million of those households—with about one million children—had consistent problems putting food on the table all year long. Those are what the government calls 'very food insecure' families. The number has tripled since 2006, since the recession started. That number is the true tragedy of our society."
  • An Explanation: Why the Under Secretary For Food, Nutrition Is Optimistic  The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both quote USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon from a news conference call. "We anticipate that food security will improve as the economy improves," Concannon explained. But "in the near term, without these benefits, many families would face far more severe problems getting the nutritious food they need." The Under Secretary also "underscored" the importance of federal food programs as safety nets and "said he was somewhat hopeful, since the number of families suffering from hunger and nutrition problems stabilized last year, even though the population of unemployed Americans rose from 9 million in 2008 to 14 million in 2009."
  • What Congress Should Do Now: Pass the Hunger-Free Kids Act "A key measure, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which would reauthorize child nutrition, improve school meals and help fight childhood obesity, has stalled in the Senate over controversial provisions," writes Nichole Brochu at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Congress convenes this week in its lame-duck session. It's the perfect opportunity to move this important bill through and do what's necessary to keep U.S. hunger levels, especially among children, from escalating any further. After all, no nation can achieve success if its children are going hungry."
  • What's Up Next: The 112th Congress Won't Be Nearly as Good for the Poor  In anticipation of the report, Slate's Annie Lowrey notes that the "last two years passed more legislation benefiting the poor than any other in memory." Having said that, things look much bleaker under the Republican-controlled Congress: "for many programs designed to help the poor and the near-poor, the likeliest outcome is that they simply will come to an end—especially if deficit reduction becomes a higher priority than economic recovery. There are some programs, however, that were enacted by the 111th Congress and have not yet taken effect. Foremost, in 2014, under the new health care law, millions more low-income people will be eligible for low-cost health insurance."