Food stamps buck trend

January 30, 2015


The number of children in Henry County and Martinsville on food stamps has dropped in the past year despite an increase nationwide. 

Numbers released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday as part of its annual look at children and families show that about 16 million children were on food stamp assistance in 2014. That equates to 1 in 5 children nationwide.

That was the highest number since the nation’s economy tumbled in 2008. In the 2007 Census survey, 9 million children were on food stamps — now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. 

However, the 6,524 Henry County-Martinsville children who were on food stamps in December was down from 6,697 a year earlier, according to Lisa Thompson, benefits program manager for Henry-Martinsville Social Services, which administers the program locally.

About 46.5 million people — children and adults alike — received food stamps last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the assistance at the federal level. That was up from around 26 million in 2007. 

Henry County-Martinsville’s total number of SNAP recipients dropped from 16,394 in December 2013 to 15,653 last December. Their total benefits dropped from $1,902,493 to $1,849,155, statistics show.

Census figures estimate that Henry County-Martinsville’s total population was 66,372 as of 2013. The 15,653 SNAP recipients as of last December represents about 23.6 percent of the local population. 

Thompson attributed the decline in local recipients to improvements in the local economy.

“We’ve still got a way to go” to create prosperity for all local residents, she said, “but the area is not in quite as bad of an economic condition as it was” after losing much of its industry in recent decades. 

Participation in —and spending for — SNAP appear to be going down nationally. The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the government spent $76 billion on SNAP last year, down 8 percent from the prior year. That was the first time spending went down since the beginning of the recession.

Half of the children receiving food stamps in the latest Census survey — 8 million — were living only with their mothers. About 5 million children receiving food stamps were living with married parents. 

Thompson said social services does not have figures showing how many local children in the SNAP program are from single-parent homes.

The spike in food stamp spending has caught the attention of Congress, and House Republicans tried to cut the program by about $4 billion a year in 2013. In an eventual compromise, Congress agreed to cuts of around $800 million a year, a policy that was signed into law by President Barack Obama early last year as part of a larger farm bill. 

Since then, many states have found ways to get around the cuts.

The SNAP program still will be under scrutiny in the new Republican Congress. The new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, and the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, are both expected to take a look at food stamp spending in the coming year. 

Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, a national anti-hunger group, said childhood hunger doesn’t get enough attention. His group is pushing Congress to leave the food stamp program untouched and to find new ways to end childhood poverty.

“These kids are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the situation in which they find themselves,” Shore said. 


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