Food stamp use rising in county
The use of food stamps in Jefferson County has tripled since 2000, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2000, about 5 percent of Jefferson County residents received food stamps. By 2011, the last year for which data are available, that figure had climbed to 15.6 percent.
Roberto Gallardo, associate professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, compiled and analyzed food stamp data for the state of Iowa. He noted the use of food stamps increased significantly during the economic recession, which started in 2007.
The increase in food stamps in Jefferson County mirrors similar increases in the rest of Iowa and the nation. Just under 5 percent of Iowans were on food stamps in 2000, and by 2011 the percentage had risen to 13.1 percent. The percent of the nation on food stamps rose from just above 5 percent to 14.8 percent by 2011.
The food stamp program is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Emily Guerin and Tim Marema of The Daily Yonder, a publication specializing in rural news across America, noted that places outside major metropolitan areas, such as Jefferson County, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits. They said incomes outside metropolitan areas tend to be lower.
The inflation-adjusted median household income in Jefferson County in 2011 was $41,162, substantially lower than the median income in Iowa, which is $51,314. Nationally, median household income was $52,306 that year.
In 2011, residents of Jefferson County received $4 million in SNAP benefits. Participants spend nearly all their food stamps within one month of receipt, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute. The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.
Grocers say they feel the impact of SNAP and other USDA nutrition programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
“Without SNAP and WIC, we wouldn’t be able to make it,” wrote the owner of the Mill City Market in the small town of Mill City, Ore., in a survey of rural grocers conducted by the Oregon Food Bank and Kansas State University Rural Grocery Initiative.
David Procter with the Rural Grocery Initiative said grocery store owners have to stock the shelves in preparation for the release of SNAP benefits because they have such a significant impact on consumer spending. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Walmart reported that a decrease in SNAP benefits could affect its bottom line, too.
The U.S. Congress passed an economic stimulus package in 2009 that temporarily increased SNAP benefits, which are now being phased out. Average SNAP benefits nationally fell about $30 a month per family in November.
Guerin and Marema note that Congress has agreed to trim about $8 billion from SNAP in the next decade. SNAP expenditures increased 135 percent between 2007 and 2011. U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) backed a measure that would have removed SNAP from the farm bill entirely.
“While [SNAP] is an important part of our safety net, our overriding goal should be to help our citizens with the education and skills they need to get back on their feet so that they can provide for themselves and their families,” Cantor said during congressional debate.
Food stamps have been part of the farm bill for the past 50 years. Guerin and Marema said the legislation’s combination of farming and nutrition programs has helped ensure the bill receives broad backing from farm-country representatives and more urban-based members who support anti-poverty programs.