Thursday, April 30, 2009

Serving the hungry

I was stunned and sad to watch the ABC 20/20 episode “life on the edge”. It tells the stories of those who are severely affected by the subprime mortgage crisis. But the one about “a hedge fund manager becomes a pizza delivery guy” got me contemplate how bad the situation was and an important public welfare program—food stamp (if you’d like, you can check this out in free episodes). For those without much savings and income, food stamp is the very help they would need to sustain life.

We have been hearing about the insanely high unemployment rate, but probably few pay attention to food stamp use, which has gone up to 32 million populations in January this year (See Washington Post for the indication of the trend in unemployment, food stamp participation and poverty). This means one in every ten Americans is receiving food stamp assistance.

Compared to a year ago, this figure has an astonishing increase rate across the nation: eleven states reported greater than 20% increases in their caseloads from the previous year. Idaho experienced the highest year-over-year increase surging 32% followed by Utah (29%), Florida (29%), Nevada (29%), Arizona (25%) and Wisconsin (25%). Minnesota has a 10.2% increase rate, about 6% lower than the national rate. (United States Department of Agriculture, State Level Participation) The financial crisis has hit hard every region of the nation. And people are seeking help with daily necessities everywhere, just as they have been looking for jobs.
The sadness with this campaign of serving the hungry is not only about the staggering population turning to government for help, but also the diversity in social classes that are joining the club. As is stated in a news report by CBS, “many solidly middle-class families that never believed they would have to rely on welfare are doing exactly that.” (CBS: From Six-Figure Salaries to Food Stamps) Although some consider using food stamp card to be embarrassing, the program guarantees the basic needs of the suffering are met. It also guarantees the stability of the society.

Food stamp is a legacy of the 1964 Food Stamp Act and has been replaced by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to emphasis nutrition and health to the low-income family. The amount of benefit is calculated through subtracting 30% of net monthly income of a household from the maximum allotment for the household size. The following is a chart of the SNAP allotment.


1 comment:

  1. I guess this isn't surprising. I would expect that more people are turning to food stamps in the current economy. However, I wonder how this increase compares to other welfare programs. For example, has TANF witnessed a similar trend? Or, are more people eligible for food stamps than other social service programs?