Food stamp stimulus reaches Washington's hungry

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Increased food stamp benefits, through the federal stimulus package, began reaching the hungry—and the grocery stores where they shop—in April.  The recession is also pushing up the number of people on food stamps.  Research by Stateline.org shows that Washington’s Basic Food (food stamp) rolls jumped precipitously in the last year, putting its percentage rise sixth highest in the nation.  

Yet Washington has weathered the recession better than many states, so what’s going on? The likely explanation is a series of improvements the state has made in its food stamp program, including an October 2008 bump in the gross income limit to 200 percent of the federal poverty level and a community outreach effort in preparation for that change. The rise in the income cut-off, which was one of the Children’s Alliance’s big victories in the 2008 legislative session, was projected to bring in 23,000 new families.  The combination of the income change and the recession resulted in many more households applying for and receiving food stamp assistance.

The Family Food Hotline and the ParentHelp123 website also make it easy to get information and apply for food stamps. The state also reduced the amount of paperwork it requires from applicants, speeding up the time it takes to process applications and saving the state money.

Boosting food stamp rolls might not seem like something to brag about, but in the context of high—and rising—rates of hunger in Washington, it is. It’s also a very smart response to the economic downturn. Economists rate food stamps the most effective form of economic stimulus, for two reasons: the strapped people who receive them will immediately spend their benefits, returning the money immediately to the economy, and the money is spent locally on food, creating jobs and therefore further spending.  Every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.73 in local economic activity.

Rising food stamp rolls are good for the state budget, too, since all of the benefits and half of program administration costs are paid for by the federal government. Getting people onto food stamps means they may not need other types of assistance, such as welfare or Medicaid, that are paid for with a greater share of state funds, Sheri Steisel at the National Conference of State Legislatures told Stateline.

All of this is good news for kids.  More than 75 percent of food stamp recipient are families with kids.

--by Carolyn McConnell

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