By Stephanie Carroll Carson, Florida News Connection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida economy may be showing some signs of improvement, but that recovery has yet to trickle down to those who need it the most. Florida ranks 12th on a list of states where people say they didn’t always have enough money to put food on the table in the last year. That’s more than 21 percent of the state’s population, according to a report from the Food Research and Action Center.
Debra Susie, executive director of Florida Impact, said the state was particularly hard hit because of the economy’s reliance on the construction, service and travel industries.
“We really got hit with a triple whammy on the way Florida had to weather the economic downturn,” she said. “It takes a long time to come out of that.”
Susie is in Washington with more than 700 other people for a National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference that started on Sunday. They’ll talk about ways the federal nutrition program “SNAP,” formerly known as food stamps, can help address the problems of hunger in the country as the economy continues to recover.
As important as SNAP is, the FRAC report points out a weakness in that food program: it says the benefit levels aren’t high enough to enable people to purchase enough food to live on. FRAC President Jim Weill says that when people’s nutritional needs aren’t met, it’s difficult for them to move ahead in other aspects of their lives.
“We know from the research that that means parents and kids aren’t doing as well at work and at school as they would be doing if they were consistently eating a healthy diet,” he said.
Weill said improving SNAP benefits starts with passing a new Farm Bill in this legislative year that protects and strengthens the program. Some in Congress have suggested reducing benefits. The old Farm Bill was simply extended when it expired last year.
Florida and other Southeastern states join the Southwest as the two regions of the country most affected by food hardship, according to the report.