- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - One in eight Rhode Island households cannot afford three meals a day for everyone living in the home, but officials say that rate of food insecurity actually marks the first improvement since 2007.

The Rhode Island Community Food Bank said Monday as it released its annual hunger report that about 54,000 households in the state are considered food insecure, or nearly 13 percent, according to federal data.

The rate is down from 14.4 percent last year and from almost 15 percent at the height of the recession. The rate had either increased or stayed level since 2007, the food bank said.

The national average is 14 percent.

“What we’re trying to understand is why things are not getting better faster,” said food bank CEO Andrew Schiff. “They’re getting a little bit better. But I think the takeaway for me, from the report, is we cannot depend on this economic recovery alone to bring down the rates of hunger and food insecurity.”

The food bank’s network of food pantries serve about 60,000 people each month. The report says many vulnerable people in the state are still affected by hunger, notably children and seniors.

Schiff said the state needs to take greater advantage of federal nutrition programs, and he’d like to see state lawmakers further increase the earned income tax credit.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed worked to secure federal funding so Rhode Island and six other states can participate in a food assistance program for low-income seniors. The program launched in Rhode Island this year and 500 seniors are participating.

The Rhode Island Democrat said Monday that the improving economy is helping, but there are still far too many people who are hungry.

“We can and must do better,” Reed said.

The state has increased its funding for Meals on Wheels and the city of Providence worked with the food bank and others last summer to serve meals to more children.

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