Friday, February 12, 2010

Food stamp usage up all over--but rates still highest in nonmetro counties

This story in yesterday's New York Times, headlined "Once Stigmatized, Food Stamps Find Acceptance," draws anecdotes on the increase in food stamp receipt entirely from urban contexts. In fact, it does not use the words "rural" or "nonmetropolitan" even once. The accompanying map, however, shows the counties where food stamp use is highest. A quick glance at it reveals that many of the counties with the highest rates of food stamp (now SNAP: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) receipt are the "usual suspects" in terms of what we know about place-based poverty. That is, they are counties in the western U.S. with high American Indian populations, counties in the Rio Grande Valley with high Latina/o populations, counties in the Mississippi Delta and black belt with high African American populations, and counties in Appalachia. In short, there is a lot of overlap between counties with high rates of SNAP receipt and persistent poverty counties.

Plus, as the list of counties ranked by their rates of SNAP receipt show, the counties with the highest rates are mostly nonmetropolitan. The first metropolitan area on the list of counties ranked in descending order by percentage of residents receiving SNAP is St. Louis City Missouri, and it falls at number 35, with 36% of residents receiving food stamp benefits. The next highest metropolitan areas on the list are Hidalgo County, Texas and Bronx, New York, where 29% of residents receive food stamps. In terms of rate of receipt, however, those metropolitan counties are not even the top 100 list.

Also of interest from a rural perspective is this bit of information: Missouri "enrolls a greater share of eligible people than any other state, about 98%." In 21 Missouri counties, half of the children get food stamps. That is compared to slightly fewer than one one in four children in the nation as a whole. The story does not explain why enrollment in Missouri is so high, but it does address some of the ways that states make it easier or more difficult for residents to get food stamps, mostly by how they handle the application process. In the list of counties with the highest rates of food stamp receipt, three Missouri counties are in the "top" 15 counties. All are nonmetropolitan counties from Southeast Missouri, two specifically from the bootheel. They are Pemiscot, population 20,047, with a 47% rate of receipt; Dunklin County, population 31,616 (44%); and Ripley County, population 13,509 (39%).

Here is a recent Carsey Institute report on the importance of federal child nutrition programs to rural households.

1 comment:

Harry Styron said...

The NYTimes map shows a striking contrast between food stamp rates in adjacent areas of the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. I wish I knew why.

Regardless of the efficiency of food stamp enrollment, it's likely that many children are not being properly fed where industrial agriculture or tourism are leading sectors of the local economy. This isn't necessarily an indictment of capitalism or unwise personal choices and lousy parenting, but all are involved.

The "food stamp diet" is probably no better nutritionally than the federally-subsidized school lunch program.