MEDIA RELEASE: On eve of Thanksgiving, food stamps play key role in staving hunger and easing Recession’s blows

Equivalent of the population of Charlotte has been added to the state’s food stamp program since 2007; nearly 1 in 4 North Carolinians experienced food hardship last year

RALEIGH (Nov. 23, 2011) – During the time that many give thanks for food on their table, a new report by the NC Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, notes hunger is widespread in North Carolina and nearly 1 in 4 North Carolinians—2.2 million people—experienced food hardship in 2010.

Hunger has risen over the course of the Great Recession and North Carolina has the 6th highest rate of food hardship in the United States, up from 13th highest in 2008, according to the report. A household is determined to be suffering from food hardship when it doesn’t have enough money to buy needed food at a point over one 12-month period.

North Carolina’s food stamps program (Food and Nutrition Services) has played a vital role in stemming hunger during the economic downturn and as of September 2011, nearly 1 in 5 North Carolinians is enrolled in the program. Not surprisingly, the number of North Carolinians eligible for and accessing food stamps has closely tracked changes in the unemployment rate, and both numbers have doubled from September 2007 to September 2011. NC’s food stamp program has added 870,000 individuals – equivalent to roughly the population of Charlotte – to its individual caseload over the same period, the report said.

“North Carolina’s food stamp program has been a vital lifeline for more than a million North Carolinians in these rough times," said Louisa Warren, author of the report and Policy Advocate with the N.C. Budget & Tax Center. “When families lose their jobs and their earnings, food stamps have helped keep food on the table.”

The report tracks food stamp participation in all 100 counties as well as unemployment rates over the course of the recession. Every county in North Carolina has seen food stamps enrollment increase, the report said, with the state’s urban areas seeing the sharpest rise in pure numbers but the rural areas seeing the deepest increases relative to enrollment before the recession. Dare, Jones, Pender, Gates, and Duplin counties have all seen their food stamp enrollments quadruple since the start of the recession.

“The fact remains that there are over 2 million North Carolinians experiencing food hardship and that’s not only dangerous for individuals but costly for the state as a whole,” added Warren. “This report also takes a look at the ripple effects of hunger on education, health, and productivity—North Carolina’s 'hunger bill'—and found it was more than $5 billion last year.”

North Carolina’s hunger bill jumped by more than 31 percent over the course of the Great Recession, the report said, and according to 2010 data, three of North Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas made the top-ten list for highest food hardship rates in the U.S.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Louisa Warren, Policy Advocate, NC Budget & Tax Center, Louisa@ncjustice.org, 919.856,2183; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (cell).

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center—a project of the N.C. Justice Center—seeks to create economic opportunity and shared prosperity for all North Carolinians through non-partisan research, education and advocacy on budget, tax and economic issues.