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Heat or EAT? Millions of Americans forced to Make the Choice this Winter

SNAP is the first line of defense for Americans at risk of hunger


By: Feeding America

CHICAGO, Feb. 4, 2013 - Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, is worried that millions of low-income families are choosing between heat and hunger this winter season. The Energy Information Administration, which tracks and analyzes energy data, has projected1 that households will spend 19 percent more on average for heating oil and 15 percent more for natural gas from Oct. 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

"The high cost of heat this winter will further strain many household budgets and send more people to food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency-food charities," said Bob Aiken, president and CEO of Feeding America.

About 46 percent of Feeding America food bank client households report choosing between paying for food and paying for heating fuel or other utilities, according to Hunger in America 2010, Feeding America's report on emergency food distribution.

"When heating costs go up, it is difficult for low-income families to put food on the table. They often must turn to their local Feeding America food banks, many of which are experiencing a slump in donations following the holidays," Aiken said.

"Many Americans are struggling to get by from month to month. Unemployment is still high and, although there are signs that the economy is improving, low-wage workers are usually the last people to benefit when things get better," said Aiken. "That is why Congress needs to protect important hunger-relief programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), as our nation's leaders continue work on deficit reduction."

SNAP is the first line of defense for Americans at risk of hunger. Nearly 48 million Americans are currently enrolled in the SNAP program.

Last year Congress proposed cutting 2-3 million people from SNAP and reducing benefits by an average $90 per month for 500,000 people. SNAP remains at risk of deep funding cuts and harmful policy changes as Congress looks to reduce federal spending. Additionally, 450,000 low-income women, infants, and children are at risk of losing their monthly WIC food package if sequestration cuts are enacted.

"With all of this in mind, it is worth reminding our nation's leaders of the stark circumstances facing people who turn to Feeding America for help," Aiken said.

Among the 60,000 clients surveyed for Hunger in America 2010, many state that their household incomes are inadequate to cover their basic household expenses:

- 39 percent of client households said they had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food.
- 35 percent of client households must choose between transportation and food.
- Of the 37 million people the Feeding America network serves:
- 76 percent (10 million) of client households served are food insecure, meaning they do not always know where they will find their next meal.
- 36 percent of these client households are experiencing food insecurity with hunger, meaning they are sometimes completely without a source of food.
- 70 percent of households have incomes below the federal poverty line.
- The average monthly income for client households is $940.
- 36 percent of households include one or more working adults.
- Only 10 percent of client households are homeless.

1. Energy Information Administration, cited in Bloomberg News, October 10, 2012, "U.S. Forecasts Record Heating Prices as Winter Returns."

Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks support 61,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms. For more information on how you can fight hunger in your community and across the country, visit http://www.feedingamerica.org.


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