BOISE – A new nationwide study of child hunger shows Idaho making two top-10 lists – one measuring the most improvement in rates of child hunger, and another showing it among the 10 worst states for hungry kids younger than 5.
State Health and Welfare officials are “a little puzzled” by the conflicting results.
“We don’t have a good answer for it,” agency spokesman Tom Shanahan said. “We may have been a little behind the curve, and we’re headed in the right direction now.”
The study, “Feeding America: Child Food Insecurity in the United States,” looked at hunger rates for children by state. It compared data from 2005 through 2007 with data from 2003 to 2005. It also, for the first time, broke out data for children under 5.
Washington didn’t make any of the study’s top-10 lists, but it tied with New Mexico for the 11th-highest rate of child “food insecurity.” Washington ranked 18th in hunger rates for kids under 5.
Kathy Gardner, director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force, said the improvements aligned with several bright spots in the state’s fight against hunger. Idaho’s food stamp program, which she called “the front-line program for childhood hunger and family hunger,” is rapidly expanding. And on Monday, it dropped its asset test for one year, potentially making more laid-off Idahoans eligible for help.
“Every once in a while we do something that’s very progressive,” she said.
People qualify for food stamps in Idaho if they earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which, for a family of four, is $27,564 a year. But until Monday, Idaho families were disqualified if they had more than $2,000 worth of assets.
For the next year, assets won’t matter. So a family with no work but with enough in the bank for a few months’ worth of mortgage payments still could get help.
“The economic conditions we’re in are not typical at all – they really are kind of topsy-turvy,” Shanahan said. “We worked with the governor’s office and decided we’ll suspend it for one year, try to help stabilize families so they don’t go into poverty or don’t lose their homes, and hopefully things will recover.”
In Washington, people earning less than 200 percent of poverty level qualify for food stamps; that’s $44,100 a year for a family of four, and asset limits have been waived.
Emergency food banks throughout the region are seeing increasing demand.
“We see new faces every day,” said Angie Lee, manager of the Community Action Partnership Food Bank in Coeur d’Alene.
She’s seen a 19 percent jump in demand for emergency food boxes for low-income families, but food donations are down 8 percent, Lee said.
“What happens is a little bit less goes in our food boxes. Everybody goes away with something, but they go away with a little bit less.”