Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wood Heat Helps Poor Households Feed their Families in Winter

More Americans are struggling with not having enough food to eat. The USDA’s November 2009 report shows the highest rate of food insecurity since reporting began nearly 15 years ago. During 2008, 17 million U.S. households – that’s about 49 million people – were food insecure and families had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during that year.

In many parts of the United States, winters can impose a financial burden. Low- income families have to choose between heating their homes, feeding themselves, and feeding their children.

Low income families who get some or all of their wood for free are cushioned from these tough choices and are not as likely to suffer food insecurity during the winter as families that have to pay for fossil fuels – especially expensive ones like oil, electricity and propane.

One study found that when poor families increased fuel expenditures in response to un- usually cold weather, they reduced food expenditures by roughly the same amount as their increase in fuel expenditures (whereas richer families increased food expenditures). The study concluded that poor parents and their children eat less food during cold-weather budgetary shocks and existing social programs fail to buffer against these shocks. (Am J Public Health. 2003;93:1149–1154)

Arkansas and New Mexico, two of the states that have among the highest per capita use of wood as the primary heat source are also have among the highest rates of food insecurity. In those states, 16% and 14% of families experience food insecurity. The worst state is Mississippi with 17.4% and the lowest is North Dakota with 6.9%.

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