USDA: More Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Steady Despite the bad economy, the number of Americans who struggled to get enough to eat did not grow last year, and in some cases declined, according to new government data. Still, a near-record number — almost 49 million people — were affected.
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USDA: Increased Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Steady

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USDA: Increased Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Steady

USDA: Increased Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Steady

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And federal officials say an increase in government food aid kept that number from going even higher, as NPR's Pam Fessler explains.

PAM FESSLER: Here's one thing that Juanita Chalumo of Washington, D.C., did to make ends meet when she was out of work this summer.

JUANITA CHALUMO: I fixed tomatoes, corn and green beans together and put a pinch of Equal in it. It's very good with onions, very tasty.

FESSLER: She also got extra food from a local pantry, Bread for the City.

CHALUMO: And then I had some neighbors that gave me something. They were African. And they gave me something to eat. That's what I lived off of.

FESSLER: Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon says those numbers were down slightly from 2009 and could have been a lot worse.

KEVIN CONCANNON: And I think the principal reason for that is the impact of these nutrition programs across the country - the food stamp or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, programs for women, infants and children, some of the school-based programs.

FESSLER: Concannon says children are among the main beneficiaries.

CONCANNON: There's no question in my mind that there would be catastrophic levels of people that were facing food insecurity without this.

FESSLER: Still, children in 386,000 households went hungry at some time during 2010. That's a big concern for Bill Shore. He heads Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that wants to end childhood hunger by the year 2015.

BILL SHORE: These numbers reflect the fact that, you know, we've been stuck at a very high level of hunger and food insecurity for going on three years now. And so that takes a real toll on those who are most vulnerable, which tend to be our children.

FESSLER: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told anti-poverty activists this summer that he's concerned about reports he's heard that SNAP is rife with fraud, and he says some changes are needed.

PAUL RYAN: Help us how figure out how to reform these programs so that they can grow at more sustainable rates, and so that they really work. Help us figure out how to make sure that these things are actually getting assistance to the people who need them.

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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