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Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District scores high on hunger scale- again

By Alfred Lubrano
Staff Writer
Philadelphia Inquirer

Economists say the recession has ended. The hungry tell a different tale.

Nearly one-fifth of Americans struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families in 2010.

And for the second year in a row, Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District – which includes Kensington, parts of North and South Philadelphia, and Chester – was one of the hungriest places in the United States.

Unemployment, underemployment, and low wages were blamed for continuing hunger hardships.

The ongoing dismal news was announced this month by the Food Research and Action Center, the leading antihunger nonprofit in the country.

FRAC analyzed data from a 2010 survey of more than 352,000 people for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The index is a partnership of the Gallup polling organization and Healthways, a for-profit company whose stated purpose is to help people maintain health.

“While the nation’s Great Recession may have technically ended in mid-2009, it has not yet ended for many of the nation’s households,” said Jim Weill, FRAC’s president. “For them, 2010 was the third year of a terrible recession that is widely damaging the ability to meet basic needs.

“Rates are just too high across the nation.”

To conduct the poll, Gallup-Healthways asked 1,000 households a night the following question:

“Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

Throughout America, 18 percent answered “yes,” down slightly from the 2009 level of 18.3 percent. The difference may not be statistically meaningful, Weill said.

“Things essentially didn’t get better between 2009 and 2010,” he added.

In the First Congressional District, represented by Democrat Bob Brady, 31.2 percent answered “yes.” The year before, 36 percent did.

The district was the fourth-hungriest in America, an improvement over the previous year’s status as second-hungriest, though the change is not statistically significant, Weill said.

Just the Bronx, N.Y.; northeastern North Carolina; and North Miami registered higher percentages of problems with hunger, called “food hardship” by FRAC.

So what does it mean for the hungry First District?

“Whether we’re fourth or second, it’s nothing to be proud of,” said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

And because Congress is considering cutting aid to Head Start as well as to programs that help poor women and children, she said, “even more will go hungry.”

Morgan added, “It’s appalling we have this hunger problem at all.”

Mayor Nutter vowed late last year to create a position in his administration to coordinate the city’s efforts to battle hunger. That has not happened yet, and the area’s leading antihunger expert, Mariana Chilton of Drexel University, has bristled.

“The city isn’t moving fast enough,” she said. “This is a state of emergency.

“Things move slowly on Capitol Hill and in City Hall. But they’re not moving slowly among hungry young children, from birth to age 3, whose brains are developing quickly, and whose social and emotional growth are at severe risk because they’re not getting enough to eat.”

Mark McDonald, the mayor’s press secretary, said that the city had been working to raise private funding for the new antihunger post. He said he hoped the position would be funded by July 1.

The FRAC report shows that other parts of the state may be troubled but are better off than the First Congressional District.

For example, food-hardship rates were 21.1 in the Second Congressional District, ranking it 126th in the nation. The district includes parts of North and West Philadelphia.

Overall, Pennsylvania has a food-hardship rate of 16.2 – below the national average of 18 – ranking it seventh-best among the states.

Things are even better in New Jersey, with a 14.9 food-hardship rate, ranking it fourth-best.

Nationwide, the section with the highest food-hardship rate was the Southeast, at 21.1 percent. The Mid-Atlantic region registered the lowest rate, at 15.6.

With high food hardship, people sacrifice other things in life to pay to eat.

“You have to give up something somewhere,” said Angela Sutton, a junior at Drexel who lives in poverty with her sons, ages 4 and 10. Sutton receives food stamps and Supplemental Security Income for a disability stemming from a childhood gunshot wound.

“You can’t always pay the electric bill, the gas bill,” said Sutton, 35, who lives in the First Congressional District. “I want to buy meat, cabbage, broccoli – healthy foods, not instant noodles and hot dogs. But healthy food costs so much more.”

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