Ending Hunger in America, 2014 Hunger Report Introduction - Page 11

BOX i.1 THE CHURN AND THE RESPONSE The official poverty rate is based on household income for a full calendar year, so it doesn’t reflect the extent to which people cycle in and out of poverty during the year. For example, a household of four is officially counted as poor if it had an income of $24,000 or less during the calendar year. It is not counted as poor if it had five months of no income but enough income in the other seven months to bring the annual income over $24,000—even if the five-month period came unexpectedly at the end of the year. Over a two-year period from 2008-2009, 13.8 percent of people were considered to be officially living in poverty; however, nearly a third of the population was below the poverty line for at least a month of these two years, and one-fifth were in poverty for at least six months.21 See Figure i.8. The upside of the information shown here is that protracted periods of poverty, that is, lasting two years or more, appear to be less common than the official poverty rate would indicate. Realizing that about a third of Americans experience poverty “It’s important to from time to time can change political attitudes. Many polihave a safety net that cymakers, and much of the public, imagine that poverty is a responds quickly, chronic problem among a particular group of people. And, in so that families that fact, there are people trapped in poverty for a very long time. But suffer a sharp drop in income and sink into there is also a much larger group of Americans who struggle on poverty, even for a the edge of poverty or slip into poverty when they lose a job or brief spell, are able when someone in the family becomes seriously ill. The average to quickly get the help SNAP participant leaves the program after 10 months.22 they need.” Thus, it’s important to have a safety net that responds quickly, so that families that suffer a sharp drop in income and sink into poverty, even for a brief spell, are able to quickly get the help they need. They may not need the help for long, but it is critical for them to get it before hunger is a reality—particularly for young children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that anyone who qualifies for SNAP will receive benefits within 30 days.23 But not all government programs respond so quickly. It takes years to qualify for publicly-subsidized housing. Also, when families fall into desperate economic straits, it usually takes some time for them to accept the idea of seeking assistance and then to figure out whether there are programs that meet their particular needs. This shows the importance of public information services, such as the 211 call program operating in some cities, which effectively refer people in need to government and community programs that might be able to help them. The ability of state and local governments to respond quickly has been compromised by the 20?Introduction n Bread for the World Institute