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US families need food

NEW YORK -- Congress should make a priority of expanding federal nutrition programs that are aimed at helping millions of struggling families feed their children. The need to bolster these programs has been underscored again in a dismaying Depart...

NEW YORK -- Congress should make a priority of expanding federal nutrition programs that are aimed at helping millions of struggling families feed their children. The need to bolster these programs has been underscored again in a dismaying Department of Agriculture study showing that a record number of households had trouble getting sufficient food at one time or another last year.

These facts are troubling enough, but a separate federal study showed that even before the recession began, more than two-thirds of families with children who were defined as "food insecure" under federal guidelines contained one or more full-time worker. This suggests that millions of Americans were trapped in low-wage jobs before the downturn that made it more difficult for them to provide children with adequate nutrition.

Families were categorized as "food secure" or "food insecure" based how they answered several questions on their eating habits during the previous 12 months.

According to the new federal data, the number of people in households that lacked consistent access to adequate nutrition rose to 49 million in 2008, 13 million more than in the previous year and the most since the federal government began keeping the data 14 years ago.

About a third of struggling households had what the researchers called "very low food security," meaning that members of the household skipped meals, cut portions or passed on food at some point during the year because they lacked money. The other two-thirds managed to feed themselves by eating cheaper or less varied foods, relying on government aid such as food stamps or resorting to food pantries and soup kitchens, which have been seeing heavier and heavier traffic in recent years.

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The Bush administration tried to deep-six this annual survey. But President Obama has dealt with it openly and called the danger to children especially troubling.

Obama has set himself the task of wiping out child hunger by 2015. To do that, Congress needs to get busy on a broad plan to expand and fully pay for a whole range of nutritional programs aimed at school-age children and their families. Only then will vulnerable children across the country get the nutrition they need.

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