There are government programs, Domestic Nutrition Assistance Programs (“DNAPs”), that provide food assistance, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). But, the study's authors argue, because of the strict eligibility requirements of the programs, barriers for participating including complicated applications, and already stingy benefits, millions of people are food insecure. What being food insecure means is choosing between buying food or paying a utility bill or rent. Or eating as opposed to buying medicine. Or skipping meals. Or being forced to buy the cheapest, often most-processed food to just be able to fill up, foregoing actual nutrition.
Food insecurity in the United States is not the result of a shortage of food or of resources; it is the result of poverty and of policies and programs that fail to prioritize the needs of low-income Americans. Despite the magnitude of the problem, and its far-reaching implications, eradicating food insecurity has not been a political priority. Instead of addressing critical gaps in food assistance, the U.S. government is considering severe funding cuts and other reforms to DNAPs that could strip millions of Americans of crucial support, exacerbate already alarming rates of food insecurity, and push families into deeper crisis.The austerity fetish is forcing more and more people into very real hunger. Right now, sequestration is taking food away from seniors who participate in Meals on Wheels. The WIC program was spared cuts in the sequester in a last-minute effort by Congress, but it is operating on the margins and "will need a substantial funding increase in fiscal year 2014 to be able to serve all eligible applicants," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And, of course, Congress is on target to slash SNAP.
It's not as if hunger is an isolated problem. It creates health problems, education problems. It strains communities. One estimate cited in the study suggests that food insecurity cost the nation $167.5 billion in 2010. That's the financial cost. The moral cost to this country of allowing 1 in 6 of its people to be hungry is incalculable.