Democrats are blaming politics for the Bush administration's decision to wait until after the election to issue a report on hunger in the United States.
The Agriculture Department report has generally been released in October, a month after annual poverty figures are released by the Census Bureau. The report has shown steady increases in the number of people struggling with hunger, from 31 million in 1999 to 38 million in 2004.
Democrats on Wednesday accused the White House of a politically motivated delay. Competitive elections across the country will decide next week whether President Bush's party keeps control of Congress.
Pattern of delays?
USDA officials said the report has long been set for a mid-November release and that the delay is not political.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., compared the delay to a recent IRS decision to hold off collections of back taxes from last year's hurricane victims.
"It seems like a pattern is emerging where the administration simply tries to bury bad information the closer they get to the election," Weiner said. "The professionals in these agencies who want to do their work in this administration are being thwarted, because it's all politics, all the time."
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the administration "continues to put politics ahead of hunger in America." She is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's farm spending subcommittee.
Weiner sent a letter about the delay Wednesday to Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist.
A department spokeswoman, Terri Teuber, said officials decided some time ago to issue the report in mid-November because analysts haven't always been able to finish it by October.
"There has been absolutely no political pressure to hold this report," Teuber said.
Done by the department's Economic Research Service, the report details the number of people with food insecurity, meaning they don't have enough money or resources to get food.
It is possible the report will show the number of hungry people has stopped climbing. That is what the Census Bureau reported on this year's poverty figures. Last year there were 37 million people still living below the poverty line, about the same as 2004.
Regardless of the reason for the delay, anti-hunger advocates just want to see the numbers.
"Our real concern is that so few people are talking about the problem and proposing ways to address that struggle with hunger that 38 million people constantly face," said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.
That goes for the administration, for both parties in Congress and for the private sector, Weill said.
"If we ought to be able to do anything as a country, it's that we ought to be able to get enough adequate, decent food to everybody," Weill said.