WASHINGTON – The Kerry campaign on Friday criticized the Bush administration for putting off, possibly until after the election, issuing an annual report that could show an increase in the number of households that either don't have access to enough food or have experienced hunger.
The Agriculture Department (search) report, originally scheduled to be made public either Thursday or Friday, is being reviewed by the department. No new date has been set for its release.
Alisa Harrison (search), the USDA's press secretary, said the Food Nutrition Service had some questions about definitions and other matters and called the review "a normal part of our process." Kerry's campaign, she said, was "attempting to make an issue where there isn't one."
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said the delay, coming just days before the election, was an example of the administration withholding bad news from the American people. "It is absolutely unacceptable for the government to hold back information like this from the public," Singer said.
The food security report, compiled by the USDA's Economic Research Service, is based on a survey of some 50,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and generally comes out about a month after the Census Bureau reports on poverty in the country.
The Census Bureau said in August that the ranks of the uninsured and the impoverished grew in 2003 for the third consecutive year, with the number living in poverty rising 1.3 million to 35.8 million.
A rise in people living below the poverty line usually translates into a rise in those who experience either food insecurity -- meaning they don't have access to enough food for healthy living at all times -- or actual hunger.
But the USDA's Harrison said the draft report now under review shows little or no change from the numbers in last year's report.
The report that came out in late October 2003 found that 11.1 percent of households were food insecure in 2002, up from 10.7 percent in 2001.
Most food-insecure families avoid hunger by limiting the types of food they buy or relying on public or private food programs. But of the estimated 12 million families that were food insecure, 32 percent reported experiencing going hungry at one time or another.
"They clearly have the report finished," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "Some appointee is holding it up until after the election."
Berg, who worked for the Agriculture Department during the Clinton administration and is now involved in the Kerry campaign, said that in 2000, the year of the last presidential election, the department issued the report in September.