14% of Americans — 48 million people — are "food insecure," and it's about to get much worse

People are "food insecure" if they lack access to "enough food for an active, healthy life." There are 48 million Americans who live in food insecurity, thanks to a combination of nearly all the economic benefits of the post-2008 recovery going to the wealthy; and the sustained attacks on America's social safety net, led by state-level Tea Party governments.

It's about to get much worse.

After the economic crisis, many states relaxed their restrictions on EBT ("food stamps"), but right-wing politicians understand that there are easy wins to be scored by attacking "entitlements" and bringing those restrictions back to pre-crisis levels, or making them even more strict (for example, by adding costly, useless drug-testing as a condition of receiving benefits — tests administered by private companies that win fat government contracts to conduct their witch-hunts).

So nearly 15% of the people in the richest country on earth go to bed hungry and worry about their next meal. Food banks are buckling under the strain, and seeing surges of elderly people, and families with young children.

Of the 29 states that relaxed food-aid restrictions after the crisis, only 8 maintain those relaxations today.

Not only is childhood hunger implicated in lifelong health problems, but welfare and other social programs are strongly correlated with entrepreneurship, because people who fear starvation and medical bankruptcy don't quit their jobs and start new businesses.

The main reason for the decline is some states' new work requirements, according to Lisa Davis, the senior vice president of government relations at the national food-bank network Feeding America. "Part of it is due to the fact that the economy is recovering, but unfortunately another big part of it is occurring in the states [that] reinstituted that three-month time limit for ABAWDs," said Davis, using an acronym for "able-bodied adult without dependents." Under federal law, ABAWDs can only receive three months' worth of SNAP benefits every three years before they get cut off. In order to receive any more, they must either find employment or enter a job training program that meets federal requirements. When unemployment is high and job training is scarce, states have the option of waiving those work requirements.

Most governors took advantage of that escape clause in the years following the financial crisis. As recently as the first quarter of this year, the USDA, which oversees food-stamp programs, had granted full waivers to 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. But within months, the number of states opting into full waivers had plummeted to eight. The result was an immediate and dramatic decline in nationwide food-stamp rolls. "The reinstatement of the time limit is probably the single most significant issue in the national social safety net happening this year," said Davis.

The Return of American Hunger
[Ned Resnikoff/The Atlantic]