By Leah Douglas
(Reuters) -Millions more Americans had difficulty securing enough food in 2022 compared to the year prior, including 1 million more households with children, a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed on Monday.
The increase interrupted a years-long trend of declining hunger in the United States. Previous reports from food banks and the U.S. Census Bureau have indicated that hunger is increasing as low-income Americans struggle to recover from the pandemic and from the end of expanded food assistance.
The USDA report, which did not provide an explanation for the rise, found that 12.8% of households – equivalent to 17 million households – struggled to get enough food in 2022, up from 10.2%, or 13.5 million households, in 2021.
Nearly 7 million households faced very low food security, meaning members’ normal eating patterns were disrupted or food intake dropped because of limited resources, USDA said.
More than 13 million children, or 18.5% of the country’s child population, lived in food insecure households in 2022.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, child hunger was improving, said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger and poverty.
“All of that progress has been eroded,” she said.
Food insecurity fell steadily between 2011 and 2021 before spiking in 2022, the report showed.
Regular surveys by the Census Bureau since the start of the pandemic have also showed rising hunger. More than 27.6 million Americans reported experiencing food scarcity in the most recent survey, conducted between Sept. 20 and Oct. 2, up 9.5% from the start of the year.
Hunger could be exacerbated further if the government shutdown narrowly avoided in September comes to pass in November, anti-hunger groups warn.
The USDA said in September that the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, for instance, would stop distributing benefits to its 7 million participants within days of a shutdown.
“WIC is one of our best lines of defense against nutrition insecurity, and Congress must ensure it remains available for anyone who needs it,” said Nell Menefee-Libey, public policy manager at the National WIC Association.
(Reporting by Leah DouglasEditing by Jonathan Oatis and Helen Popper)