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October 12, 2011
by Stephanie Hogenson, Bridge to Benefits Outreach Specialist
We should all support increased enrollment in Food Support
This is the first in a series of three blogs on Food Support. Food Support is Minnesota’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but is known on the streets as “food stamps.” The next blog will feature the writer’s personal experience with Food Support and the last blog will analyze recent and proposed Food Support legislation.
News stories, Facebook posts and Senate hearings have blasted unwarranted attacks on Food Support in recent months. These attacks exacerbate an existing stigma of people enrolled in the program, but even more harmful they are inspiring proposed budget cuts to the program, furthering hunger pains for our poorest children in Minnesota and across the country. To counter these attacks on Food Support, there must be an understanding about how Food Support not only benefits families, but also benefits our local economies, especially during these unstable economic times.
The first food stamp program was created during the Depression when the federal government recognized that there were millions of people who didn’t have enough money to pay for food, yet there was a surplus of commodities that could feed everyone. The government wanted to feed hungry men, women and children, and didn’t want the surplus food to pile in the landfills, and, more importantly, wanted to stimulate the agricultural economy to help farmers and grocers. While this initial program ended four years after it was created, because it was so successful, President John F. Kennedy revived the program in 1961 for the same reasons it was created during the Depression – there was an increasing number of people who couldn’t afford to pay for food, which affected the bottom line for farmers and grocers. Today SNAP exists for the same reasons as the earlier versions of the program: to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, distribute food surplus and stimulate a bad economy.
Now as during the Great Depression, the need for Food Support has significantly increased in Minnesota and across the country. From 2009 to 2010 there was a 16 percent increase in the use of Food Support among Minnesota children, compared to a 4 percent increase from 2007 to 2008. Since the Great Recession started in 2008 there has been a nearly 30 percent increase in children on Food Support in Minnesota. By enrolling in Food Support, families can not only silence growling stomachs, but also improve the social and academic development of their children. Just an extra $383 in a monthly family budget improves child development. Still, in 2008 Minnesota had the 43rd worst Food Support participation rate – only 45 percent of eligible households were enrolled in the program. There are many barriers that prevent eligible families from enrolling, most notably the complex application process and not knowing that they are eligible in the first place. Eligible families that are not enrolled are often relying on their local food shelves and making tough decisions every month. Food or prescriptions? Food or the electric bill? Food or rent? Outreach efforts in Minnesota have improved the percentage of eligible households that are enrolled, but there is still a lot of work to be done as more and more families are losing jobs and facing financial crises.
The positive effect Food Support has on local economies increases as usage increases. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that every $1 spent on SNAP generates nearly twice that ($1.82) in total economic activity. When a family enrolls in Food Support in Minnesota, they spend their benefits at local grocery stores, increasing the grocers’ profits, inspiring managers to hire more cashiers, who then spend the money they earn, and the cycle of economic stimulus generated by money spent on Food Support continues. In 2010 Food Support brought $625 million in benefits to Minnesotans. Times that by $1.82 and that’s more than $1 billion in economic activity. Experts estimate that Minnesota is leaving $210 million in food and money on the table by not fully enrolling eligible people in Food Support. Therefore, instead of stigmatizing them, families should be encouraged to use Food Support, enrollment outreach efforts should be expanded, application processes should be simplified, and funding should be increased.
So the next time you’re in line at the grocery store and you or the person in front of you uses their Food Support benefits by swiping an EBT card, be thankful for those dollars not just because they are feeding someone, but because they will benefit your community. And then when you get home call or e-mail your state and federal representatives to ask them to advocate for Food Support (SNAP) and make changes that increase enrollment not only on behalf of hungry, developing children in Minnesota, but on behalf of our state and local economic stability.
For Further Reading:
“A History of Food Stamps Use and Policy”
DHS Dec 2010 Food Support Enrollment Report
SNAP Access Study
Bridge to Benefits – Learn About Programs: Food Support