Despite America’s economic prosperity, more Americans requested food, shelter and other emergency services in 1996 than in previous years, the nation’s largest private social service agency reported Wednesday.
The 25th-annual survey by Catholic Charities USA said its agencies served 12.7 million people in 1996, about 2 million more than in 1995. Among those in need, 7.9 million people asked for emergency services such as food and shelter, an 11 percent increase over the previous year.
Overall, the report found “most startling” the 5.6 million Americans who requested food in 1996, up from 4.9 million in 1995.
“There is still widespread hunger in America. Poverty is not going away,” said the Rev. Fred Kammer, president of Catholic Charities USA. “Despite a growing economy and low unemployment and even before the full effects of welfare reform have kicked in, the number of Americans in need of food continues to grow.”
“Eight percent of the people who call us don’t have food or shelter,” said the Rev. Michael Boland, administrator of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese of Chicago. “Most of them are people who have, historically, never come to us before. People are working minimum-wage jobs and having a very difficult time paying for everything. So they sacrifice food, medicine or the roof over their heads and come to us for support.”
In addition to the significant increases in people requesting basic needs nationwide, demand for health-related care rose to 1.4 million people, triple 1995’s total, the report also said.
The increased demand for basic needs, emergency services and health programs nationwide is being caused by government cutbacks and legislation that worsens many Americans’ financial problems, Catholic Charities officials said.
“There used to be government programs which acted as a financial safety net. Now welfare reform has people falling through the cracks,” Boland said. “Now people fall further and further behind on rent or utilities bills, have no way to pay for health care, or search for work in an environment where welfare reform has increased competition for low-end jobs.”
Catholic Charities officials predicted future cutbacks will increase demand on nonprofit social services further.