Five years ago, 26.3 million low-income Americans relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Program, or SNAP. Today, enrollment in the food stamp program tops 46.6 million, including about 316,200 Kansans.
In fiscal 2012, the federal government spent more than $450 million in Kansas for the program, more than double the $190 million it spent in fiscal 2007. Nationally, the program's cost has more than doubled in five years — from about $33.2 billion in 2007 to more than $78.4 billion in 2012.
The growth is a direct result of the recent recession and therefore the program is doing what it was intended to do: help families in hard times, say those who oppose cuts to SNAP.
Joanna Sebelien of Harvesters Community Food Network, which supplies food banks in 26 Kansas counties, said the recession left about 400,000 Kansans “food insecure.”
"There are stereotypes about who's getting what and who deserves what. But people can apply for SNAP when they're out of a job. So in the current economy, when so many people are out of jobs, more and more people became eligible for SNAP," Sebelien said. "We know that 35 percent of the people we serve (at the food banks) are working. They are the working poor, and many of them are eligible for SNAP. You are eligible for SNAP if you are at 130 percent of poverty — many people are at that level and have jobs.”
Of all households receiving SNAP nationally in 2004, 58 percent were working and 82 percent were employed the year before or the year after they received food stamps, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
A more recent estimate by SNAP To Health indicates at least 40 percent of current SNAP households have employment income.
More than three-quarters of SNAP benefits go to households with children, 16 percent to households with disabled persons, and 9 percent to households with senior citizens.
One Osage, Kan., resident and food stamp beneficiary travels with her two adult autistic children, whom she supports, 30 miles to Topeka once a month in order to stretch the $710 monthly household income. The family shops at several area discount stores, such as the Salvation Army Thrift Stores and Tilton's grocery.
The 63-year-old woman said life was hard but that at least with food stamps she and her children usually do not go hungry.
“If it wasn’t for food stamps, I just wouldn’t make it,” she said.
She said she was disabled as the result of a 1990 workplace injury that among other things damaged her spine.
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