One Hungry Nation

posted on Thu, Dec 3 2009 1:43 pm by Liz

The New York Times had a great article about food stamps a few days ago. I knew food stamp use was increasing. I may have even heard that it was at record highs. But I don’t think I realized that 1 in 4 children in the United States are now receiving food stamps. One in four. Wow.

One of the things the article stresses is that the stigma around food stamps has declined over the last few years and particularly in the last year, as more and more people are relying on food stamps after losing their jobs. Another thing that has helped is the move to plastic: Food stamps are now loaded onto little plastic cards (EBT cards), just like debit and credit cards, so their use isn’t as conspicuous. They even gave the program a snappier name—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP for short).

Minnesota is exactly average in terms of participation: Nationally, 66% of those eligible for food stamps are participating in the program (data are from 2007—the most recent available) and the same percentage of eligible people participate in Minnesota. Looking specifically at the working population, there are an estimated 179,000 working people in Minnesota whose income is so low they are still eligible for food stamps. Of those, only 56% are participating in the program (also the same as the national rate). For more detail on participation rates, check out the USDA Report: Reaching Those in Need.

One of the cool things about the New York Times article is the accompanying interactive graphic, which shows participation rates down to the county level. Looking at the data for the nine-county Greater Twin Cities United Way service area, Ramsey County stands out: 12% of the population is on food stamps, including nearly one-quarter (23%) of children. Hennepin County comes next, with 9% overall and 16% of children. But some of the biggest changes are seen in the outer counties: Carver County has seen an increase of 82% in food stamp use since 2007, and Scott County has seen a 70% increase. Increases were substantial in Isanti (58%) and Chisago (54%) counties as well.

If you’ve hit hard times and are wondering if you or someone you know might be eligible for food stamps (or other financial assistance programs), go to Bridge to Benefits and fill out the screening tool—after answering just a few questions, they will tell you what benefits you may be eligible for and provide contact information and links to applications.

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