Half of nation’s poor don’t get food stamps, study finds

Half of nation’s poor don’t get food stamps, study finds

(EDITORS: Story is EMBARGOED for publication until 12:01 a.m. EDT Tuesday.)


By Rob Hotakainen

McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON Half of the nation’s eligible poor aren’t getting the food stamps to which they’re entitled, a study released Tuesday found.

The District of Columbia had the highest participation rate in 2004, at 71.8 percent, while Missouri ranked first among the 50 states in getting food stamps to its low-income residents. Nevada ranked last among states, with 32 percent of its eligible residents getting food stamps.

Overall, 50.2 percent of the nation’s qualified poor received food stamps in 2004, according to the study by the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group that examines the local impact of federal budget policies.

“We’ve got over 35 million people in this country struggling to get enough food to eat, and 50 percent of all low-income people are not receiving the benefit that is intended to alleviate this food insecurity,” said Greg Speeter, the project’s executive director. “While the food-stamp program provides a vital service, clearly too many people are still going without.”

After Missouri, the states with the highest participation rates were Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia and Oklahoma. After Nevada, the states with the lowest participation rates were Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.

The food-stamp program, founded in 1964 and run by the Department of Agriculture, is the largest of the federal government’s food and nutrition programs. In 2004, the program cost $28.6 billion, or 1.2 percent of total federal spending, and served 23.2 million people, according to the study.


In examining state participation rates, the authors of the study focused on county data for 2004, finding wide differences.

The study found that a significant number of counties, 13.2 percent, had below-average percentages of low-income people participating in the program, even though they had above-average poverty rates.

The authors cited many reasons for the disparities, including the stigma of government benefits, eligibility rules and lack of information about the benefits.

Under the food-stamp program, a family is eligible for aid if its income is 130 percent of the poverty level.

Nearly all of the states followed a national trend of increasing the number and percentage of low-income people participating in the food-stamp program in recent years. The study said that much of the increase was the result of changes in eligibility rules that took effect in 2002. And since 2004, all states are now using electronic benefits transfer systems, which allow food-stamp beneficiaries to appear to be using debit cards.

Only three states Hawaii, Rhode Island and Connecticut had decreases in the proportion of low-income people participating in the program between 2000 and 2004.


Percentage of low-income people receiving food-stamp benefits in 2004 by state, from low to high:

United States 50.2

1. Nevada 32.3

2. Wyoming 35.0

3. Utah 35.2

4. Colorado 36.6

5. Idaho 38.7

6. New Jersey 38.9

7. Wisconsin 40.0

8. Kansas 40.4

9. Maryland 40.4

10. New Hampshire 40.8

11. Massachusetts 41.2

12. Florida 43.2

13. Minnesota 43.7

14. California 44.2

15. Iowa 44.4

16. Nebraska 46.0

17. Rhode Island 46.1

18. Arizona 46.1

19. Connecticut 46.2

20. Montana 46.8

21. North Carolina 47.1

22. Texas 47.2

23. North Dakota 47.3

24. Virginia 47.5

25. New York 47.5

26. South Dakota 48.2

27. Washington 50.0

28. Mississippi 51.3

29. Alaska 52.0

30. Alabama 53.1

31. Georgia 53.3

32. Pennsylvania 53.3

33. Delaware 53.7

34. Ohio 53.7

35. Illinois 55.1

36. Indiana 55.2

37. New Mexico 55.7

38. Vermont 55.8

39. Michigan 58.9

40. South Carolina 59.3

41. Hawaii 60.1

42. Arkansas 60.6

43. Kentucky 61.0

44. Louisiana 64.6

45. Oregon 64.7

46. Oklahoma 65.1

47. West Virginia 65.3

48. Maine 67.1

49. Tennessee 67.9

50. Missouri 71.5

District of Columbia 71.8

(Source: National Priorities Project)

(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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