Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Study: More Families Using Food Stamps to Feed Kids

Study: More Families Using Food Stamps to Feed Kids

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The United States has more poor children now than it did a year ago.

As recession-hammered families increase, more are using food stamps to feed their kids, according to a study by the Brookings Institution and First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy group.

"They are a really good barometer, a kind of economic needs test," said Mark Rank, an expert on social welfare programs at Washington University in St. Louis. "If you're receiving food stamps and you're a child, by definition, you're in poverty."

Across the nation, 7 million people joined the food stamp rolls from August 2008 to August 2009, the study said. Users rose from 29.5 million to 36.5 million. Half were children.

States scattered coast to coast showed "very high growth" in food stamp caseloads. In Florida, almost half a million people joined the rolls, a 34 percent increase; in North Carolina, nearly 200,000, a 21 percent increase.

Other states that showed a high increase in the percentage of food stamp caseloads include Idaho, with a 36 percent increase; Washington state, up 32 percent; Georgia, up 27 percent; California, up 21 percent; and Texas, up 20 percent.

"As parents lose jobs and as work becomes scarcer, it's only natural to see your needs-based programs have more people applying for that assistance," said Scott Rowson, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Social Services.

The study appears to buttress a U.S. Census report last fall, which found that nearly one in five children live in poverty. Julia Isaacs, a Brookings scholar, said that could end up closer to one in four by 2012.

The food stamp program is now known as SNAP, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Participants use ATM-like cards instead of the old scrip.

The benefits always have been aimed at a broader audience of the poor than most anti-poverty programs are. To become eligible, generally one must earn less than 130 percent of poverty guidelines — below $28,665 for a family of four — and have no more than $2,000 in the bank.

Unemployment was 4.9 percent in December 2007, when the government pegs the start of the recession. Now it's 10 percent. Many workers have seen their paychecks cut and benefits such as health insurance disappear.

Despite the food-stamp safety net, experts worry.

"Children in households that experience poverty are at risk of other kinds of problems, so it's definitely something to be concerned about," Rank said. "It has bad effects on families."

State .........% increase in SNAP participants From Jan-June 2008 to Jan-June 2009

Alabama ......... 19

Alaska ........... 12

Arizona .......... 30

Arkansas ......... 9

California ....... 21

Colorado ......... 27

Connecticut ...... 13

Delaware ......... 22

DC ............... 15

Florida .......... 34

Georgia .......... 27

Hawaii ........... 19

Idaho ............ 36

Illinois ......... 13

Indiana .......... 14

Iowa ............. 16

Kansas ........... 17

Kentucky ......... 11

Louisiana ........ 8

Maine ............ 16

Maryland ......... 26

Massachusetts .... 25

Michigan ......... 14

Minnesota ........ 17

Mississippi ...... 13

Missouri ......... 16

Montana .......... 15

Nebraska ......... 10

Nevada ........... 37

New Hampshire .... 23

New Jersey ....... 14

New Mexico ....... 22

New York ......... 18

North Carolina ... 21

North Dakota ..... 9

Ohio ............. 18

Oklahoma ......... 11

Oregon ........... 24

Pennsylvania ..... 12

Rhode Island ..... 19

South Carolina ... 17

South Dakota ..... 15

Tennessee ........ 18

Texas ............ 20

Utah ............. 39

Vermont .......... 31

Virginia ......... 20

Washington ....... 32

West Virginia .... 10

Wisconsin ........ 30

Wyoming .......... 18

Source: SNAP data from National Data Bank Version 8.2 Public Use, adjusted by data on disaster assistance from the Disaster Report by Fiscal Year.

ON THE WEB

The Brookings Institution news release

The full report by the Brookings Institution and First Focus

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