Saturday, November 28, 2009

What about the rural children and families?

This story in today's New York Times is about the dramatic increase in receipt of food stamps--now formally known as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)--during the recession. According to the story, SNAP is now feeding (or helping to feed) one in eight Americans and a full quarter of U.S. children. Here's an excerpt that ignores the rural aspect of this phenomenon:
It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.
A subhead of the story is "Suburbs are Hit Hard." Later, however, rural residents and a few rural places do get mentioned, as here:
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

* * *

The counties [where at least a quarter of the population receive food stamps] are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.

Many of the report's anecdotes are from the six-county area outside Cincinnati, which the story describes as "small towns and rolling farmland." At least one of those counties, Clinton County, is nonmetropolitan, with fewer than 50,000 residents.

In spite of the increase in receipt of SNAP benefits, the story tells us that, nationwide, food stamps are reaching only about two-thirds of those who are eligible. Approximately 15 million eligible individuals do not receive food stamps according to the undersecretary of agriculture who oversees the program.

A slide show and this interactive map accompany the story. You can click "All recipients," "Children," "Whites," "Blacks," or "Change since 2007" to see very detailed county-level data for each category. The last of these--Change since 2007--is very interesting to me because it depicts places (including my home county) where poverty has long been so high that the recession has not changed the rate of receipt of SNAP. I note that the same is true for some other persistent poverty counties. And, in fact, the authors also implicitly acknowledge this trend in noting that the rates of receipt are growing fastest in some of the nation's richest counties, albeit from small bases.

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