March 6, 2009

As unemployment rates in the U.S. reach record levels, Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, today warned that the nation's food banks could soon be overwhelmed by demand.

According to the United States Department of Labor, 651,000 jobs were lost in the month of February, increasing the number of persons unemployed in America to 12.5 million. The unemployment rate rose from 7.6 to 8.1 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by about 5.0 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 3.3 percentage points. More than 4.4 million people have lost their jobs since the recession began in December 2007, with more than half coming in the last four months.

Earlier this week the USDA announced that participation in the SNAP program (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) has also reached the highest levels ever. There was an increase of 700,000 food stamp recipients in the month of December 2008. Nearly 32 million Americans received SNAP benefits in December 2008, the most recent month for which figures are available, up from 27.5 people enrolled just one year prior.

"These are truly staggering and frightening figures," said Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America."Just three months ago we released a new survey that showed that the 200 food banks we serve are experiencing an average increase in demand of more than 30 percent in the past year. Unemployment was cited as the primary factor for the increased demand. Many Americans are relying on food banks for assistance while they are waiting for their unemployment or SNAP benefits to arrive. Our food banks tell us they simply cannot provide enough food to all of the people who need help. A terrible situation has just become much worse."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act recently signed into law by President Obama will bring relief to low-income Americans through major new investments in SNAP benefits and additional funds to purchase commodities for food banks through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). With more than $20 billion in funding for SNAP benefits, the average increase for a family of four receiving benefits will be $80 per month. However, the benefit increase will not be in effect until April 1, 2009.

"We must note that we are extremely grateful to Congress and President Barack Obama for passing the recent stimulus bill which provides significant new funding for SNAP and food for our food banks. The new funding will go a long way towards helping low-income Americans access more food," said Escarra."We are also thrilled that corporate America, along with tens of thousands of individual donors, continues to provide us with millions of dollars in operating funds. With all of this in mind, it is a little difficult to say that the sky is falling. But the sky is falling. More help is needed."

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