Food Security and Iowa
At Thanksgiving, Budget-Cut Fever Threatens Secure Nutrition Network
News Release: IPP Report Looks at Iowans' Food Security, Private-Public Supports

CONTACT: Mike Owen (319) 338-0773, ipp(at)

Download full report 18-page PDF
Read or Download the executive summary (5-page PDF)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (November 22, 2011) — As Iowans prepare for Thanksgiving, they may want to recognize that in 12 percent of households, fellow Iowans will have been challenged to put adequate food on the table at some point in the year.

“We celebrate our holidays with food, but for many Iowans — and other Americans — it's not always possible. They are busy answering whether they have enough for their family, or whether they might have to skip a meal,” said Andrew Cannon, research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP).

“To meet this challenge, Iowans and all Americans are kept an arm's length from hunger by a complex web of services — a network of federal, state and local government supports, nonprofits, faith-based groups and other private donors. The new challenge this Thanksgiving is the budget-cutting fever in Washington that could undermine this critical network of support for vulnerable families.”

In a new report, Cannon notes that the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that, on average from 2008-10, about 12.1 percent of Iowans experienced "food insecurity," which is an official measure of “[a]ccess by all people at all times to enough food for active, healthy life.” In addition, by USDA measurements, one-fifth of households with children in the United States were food insecure in 2009.

“Iowa typically has lower rates of food insecurity than the national average; still, over 16 percent of Iowa children were food insecure over 2006-08,” Cannon noted.

As the report points out:
— The best known federal program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), served over 340,000 in Iowa in the last fiscal year, with a benefit of about $129 per person per month.
— One federal program in particular is critical to private efforts: The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP. Food donated by individuals, small groups, churches or the food industry is distributed alongside commodities purchased and distributed by the USDA through TEFAP.
— In Iowa, over 1,160 local and regional emergency feeding organizations (EFOs) distribute food to those in need.

“EFOs supplement federal food assistance received by individuals, but do not replace it,” Cannon said. “Nearly one-third of SNAP recipients also obtain food from a pantry at some time during the year.

“What we can see is that all of these efforts, public and private, are critical to helping all Americans meet food needs."

He noted the food assistance web was temporarily strengthened by the 2009 federal Recovery Act, which both met increased need caused by the recession, and boosted the economy by increasing consumer demand.

“Nevertheless, the need for food assistance remains strong, and the integrity of that web of support is threatened by the expiration of the Recovery Act and the drive toward fiscal austerity — budget cuts. It is too much to expect private charities to pick up the pieces,” Cannon said.

“Absent an economic turnaround — meaning more and better-paying jobs — both the nation’s and Iowa’s food-insecure population is likely to remain higher than historical levels. Coming federal budget cuts will make it increasingly difficult for emergency feeding organizations to help those that come to their door.”

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization in Iowa City. Reports are available at

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