The U.S. Census said in a report this week that more grandparents than ever are raising their grandchildren. The report also claims that a significant number of those kids are living in poverty. The data show nearly one in five of grandparent caregivers lived below the poverty line in 1999 ... and the economy has worsened since then.
Advocates for the poor say in many cases, basic needs like food are not being met. Indeed, the number of domestic hunger cases is on the rise, as government and private social service groups are discovering.
The numbers are daunting. According to Bread for the World Institute, some 33.6 million people in U.S. households experience hunger or the risk of hunger each day. Of that total, 13 million are children. Further, preschool and school-aged kids who face hunger also suffer from higher levels of chronic disease, anxiety and depression than those children with no hunger.
The increasing number of people facing hunger has put additional strains on both government and private groups that supply food. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that in 2002, requests for emergency food assistance increased an average of 19 percent. And nearly half of those asking for help were families with children.
David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World: "Americans care about hunger. People are really charitable to food banks and food pantries. We can't food bank our way to the end of hunger. We also have to have the U.S. government be an active participant."
That's where most people expect the federal government to fill the gap. Washington spends about $12 billion annually on a variety of programs targeted especially at feeding children. The National School Lunch Program, for instance, serves more than 28 million meals nationally each day.
But the feds face not only burdensome budget shortfalls, but charges of omitting some needy children from assistance programs.
Eric Bost, USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services: "We are motivated by ensuring that every eligible child participates in this program. We are not interested; we are not motivated by either inhibiting or preventing any eligible child from participating in the program. But we are motivated by ensuring that they do meet the eligibility requirements."
Supplying food that school children will eat also is a challenge. USDA last year bought more than $700 million in surplus commodities for the school lunch program. But the agency has come under fire for using those purchases more to stabilize commodity markets than to provide food that children want to eat.
According to anti-hunger groups like Second Harvest, school lunch leftovers contribute to the more than 3,000 pounds of food wasted generated in the U.S. every second of every hour of every day.