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USDA: disabled must be taken into account in food insecurity efforts

"Lack of money for food can be caused in part by low earnings, or by high expenses. Disabilities can heighten both of these conditions," reads a recent post on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website. The discussion is about food insecurity -- the trouble many people in the U.S. have meeting their need for food. The point is, people with disabilities and non-disabled caregivers have largely been left out of research and analysis on this issue.

The problem doesn't relate only to those who are disabled and cannot work, many of whom receive government benefits through SSDI or SSI. It extends beyond those who directly receive benefits to their caregivers and families. As the USDA points out, for example, those who assist in household care for a person with a disability have less time to spend working. Those who care for a disabled spouse or child full time typically have no opportunity for additional paid work.

Previous studies have indeed shown that food insecurity is more common in households where at least one adult has a disability that prevents him or her from working. However, until recently, little or no research has been done on the households of those whose disabilities do not prevent employment.

Now, the USDA's Economic Research Service has looked into how those people whose disabilities do not prevent them from working fare in terms of food insecurity. As a follow up, new questions will be added to the monthly Current Population Survey run through the U.S. Census Bureau. The idea is to learn more about what specific types of disabilities -- whether or not they affect the ability to work -- impact food insecurity.

The researchers noted that, whether they are disabled from work or not, people with disabilities typically have greater medical expenses than those who do not. Those who qualify for SSDI or SSI also receive government health insurance which pays for much of that additional cost. People with disabilities who can work must obtain health care on their own.

People with certain disabilities also may find it difficult to go grocery shopping, especially if they live in areas with no access to full-service grocery stores -- the so-called "food deserts." If they do have access to high-quality food and the ability to shop for it, some disabilities can make it very difficult to prepare and cook healthy meals.

This is important and practical information we need in order to ameliorate the injustice of hunger among those least able to tolerate it. Last year, nearly 15 percent of American households were unable to easily meet their dietary and nutrition needs. Understanding how the presence of a person with a disability in the household may contribute to the problem can only help policymakers allocate resources more effectively.

Source: USDA blog, "Disability Is an Important Risk Factor for Food Insecurity," Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Food Assistance Branch, Economic Research Service, Feb. 12, 2013

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