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Hunger Up in WA – Will State Cut Food Programs?

November 28, 2008

Spokane, WA – Whether you call it hunger or "food insecurity," it's a trend on the rise. An estimated 225,000 households in Washington have experienced uncertainty about getting their next meal, and 300,000 children live in those families.

The figures are from 2007, before the economic downturn, and they've been released just as Governor Gregoire has ordered more budget belt-tightening. Linda Stone, Eastern Washington director for The Children's Alliance, is concerned that state budget cuts will affect the poor disproportionately, and that private donations won't be enough to fill the growing food gap.

"The thing about most food and nutrition programs is that they're public and private partnerships. You take a little bit of state money; you have federal funds coming in; and you also have the public sector donations coming in. You mix that together and establish a safety net, and so, we need to keep all the players involved."

Stone notes that food programs also help local economies because the money is spent at grocery stores and farmers markets. Some of the most troubling new statistics, she adds, concern hunger among non-white families.

"A particularly disturbing factor is that Latino households have a 27 percent rate of food insecurity, and non-Hispanic whites have a 7 percent. So, we're looking at a real disparity here, based on race, in the state of Washington."

For African-Americans, the food insecurity rate is 17 percent. Stone says single-parent households headed by women have it even worse, at just over 30 percent. Washington's rural counties also are hard hit, through a combination of farm workers' low wages and downturns in such industries as fishing and logging. For all of those reasons, children's advocates have asked the governor to exempt nutrition programs from the current budget reductions.

The figures were compiled by the Washington Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and summarized in the report, "Hungry in Washington 2008." See it online at www.childrensalliance.org

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA