The number of children in the United States relying on food stamps for a meal spiked to 16 million last year, according federal data, signaling a lopsided economic recovery in which lower income families are still lagging behind.

The roughly one in five children who received food stamps in 2014 surpassed pre-recession levels, when one in eight or 9 million children were on food stamps, according to the U.S. Census survey of American families released on Wednesday.

Republicans in Congress have sought to cut back on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or food stamp program as part of a larger plan to balance the budget.

Early last year lawmakers proposed $40 billion in cuts from the program over 10 years. The final farm bill signed into law trimmed $8.6 billion from the program, eliminating benefits for about 850,000 people, according to estimates by anti-hunger advocates.

While the nationwide employment outlook has improved somewhat in recent years, food banks around the country are reporting soaring levels of food insecurity and demand for emergency food assistance.

That is due in part to other recent cuts to food stamps, including a $5 billion across-the-board cut that took effect on Nov. 1, 2013. An additional $6 billion in automatic cuts are expected to occur over the next two years.

Recent eligibility cuts are causing up to 1 million current recipients to lose benefits and resulting in “serious hardship for many,” according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that roughly 14.3 percent of U.S. households in 2013 “lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members” — a nearly 30 percent increase since 2007, the year before the financial crisis.


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