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In America, we seek freedom and opportunity. But for almost 7 million households, the experience of hunger limits their freedom and reduces their chances of success. Thus, hunger in the United States can undermine our nation’s full potential.

In spite of diverse viewpoints on the causes and consequences of hunger, we as a Commission are in agreement that hunger is an important problem and that we can do something about it.

Hunger in America is solvable. People in America are not hungry due to war or famine or drought. Our country—with all its strength, genius, creativity, and spirit of community—has the ability to be free from hunger. America has no shortage of food, and no shortage of food assistance programs. But those programs do not work as effectively, cooperatively, and efficiently as they should.

To identify solutions to hunger, Congress created the 10-member National Commission on Hunger. The Commission members, appointed by the House and Senate leadership, represent government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations.

We believe that the problem of hunger in America is fundamentally a problem of values—in a nation as rich as ours, no one should go hungry. Our members are in full agreement that the problem of hunger cannot be solved through government efforts alone. In addition to sound public policy, the solution to hunger in America requires an economy with broad opportunity for working age adults, robust community and corporate partnerships, personal responsibility to make good, positive choices for our families and communities, and our sincere commitment to helping others in ways that strengthen the fabric of our society.

There are many root causes of hunger, including labor market forces and job availability, family structure, education, exposure to violence, historical context, and personal responsibility. By focusing on the most vulnerable members of our society, such as seniors, single parent families with young children, people with disabilities, and our veterans, the United States can surely put an end to hunger.

In this report, we outline the pathway to achieve the goal of ending hunger in the United States through 20 recommendations to Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other Executive Branch agencies that can be acted upon in the immediate future. What we outline here is achievable, practical, and forward thinking. These solutions depend on bipartisan actions in Congress, and commitment from the current and future President of the United States and the Executive Branch, and they depend on each of us to make the personal choice to get involved and act on our commitment to help nourish our families and communities.  By doing so, we will “afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance.” 

This is Our Charge

To provide policy recommendations to Congress and the USDA Secretary to more effectively use existing programs and funds of the Department of Agriculture to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity; and to develop innovative recommendations to encourage public-private partnerships, faith-based sector engagement, and community initiatives to reduce the need for government nutrition assistance programs, while protecting the safety net for the most vulnerable members of society.

Defining Hunger

Very Low Food Security

“Hunger” is a complex concept to quantify. We wish to be very clear that the situation we call hunger in America is not the equivalent of famine and the resulting malnutrition seen in developing countries.

Food insecurity (see glossary) is measured by the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module, which has been in widespread use for nearly 20 years. It asks questions about respondents’ reports of uncertain, insufficient, or inadequate food access, availability, and use because of limited financial resources, and about the compromised eating patterns and consumption that might result. The USDA uses the responses to classify households into four categories: high food security, marginal food security, low food security, and very low food security. Households with high or marginal food security are called food secure, and households with low or very low food security are called food insecure.

To define hunger for this report, we chose a precise and readily available measure called very low food security, which occurs when eating patterns are disrupted or food intake is reduced for at least one household member because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The use of this particular measure allowed us to focus on households where the problem is most severe.

Thus, when we use the word “hunger” we mean households experiencing very low food security. When statistics are not available for this measure, we may report values for the broader measure of food insecurity, which captures both low and very low food security.