Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Rising Food Stamp Participation and the Crisis in Nutrition

Jonathan Smith

The Associated Press reported this morning that enrollment in the Food Stamp program (renamed this summer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) has hit a record high of 35.1 million enrollees, representing about 11% of the population.  As the economy has worsened, more than 700,000 have been added to the rolls since May.  To be eligible for SNAP, a family must have an income of less than 130% of the federal poverty line.  (A family of four is considered poor only if they have an income of less than $22,050.).  Food Research & Action Center statistics show that the rate of SNAP participation in the District is 17.8%.  Only Tennessee and Missouri have higher rates of participation.

Nevertheless, despite these enrollment figures, D.C. has a very high rate of families that struggle for adequate nutrition.  According to the Department of Agriculture, 11.9% of families are food insecure and 3.8% have very low food security.  (Food Insecurity includes people who have had to make changes in the quality or the quantity of their food in order to deal with a limited budget.  Very Low Food Security includes people that struggle with having enough food for the household, including cutting back or skipping meals on a frequent basis for both adults and children.)

Children and households with only the mother in the home tend to be poorer.  The crisis of hunger falls disproportionately on children and effects their health, ability to learn and confidence in their future.  The downturn in the economy has clearly exposed the fragile nature of food security where now more than one in every ten Americans needs government support to get enough to eat.

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  • Jonathan Smith on Sep 07, 2009


    Thank you for your blog. It is a terrific resource.

    Among the most troubling aspects of the question of hunger – as with much of poverty – is extent of income inequality. To have hunger and excess in such close proximity is disturbing. That so many don’t even know that hunger exists on a wide spread basis is shocking.

  • Kathryn Baer on Sep 06, 2009

    Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the District has both a high rate of SNAP participation and at least 11.9% of families who are food insecure. (The USDA figures are for 2005–7 and so don’t reflect the impacts of the recession.) Food stamp benefits are nowhere near enough to keep a healthful variety of foods on the table. Consider that your reference family of four can get a maximum of $668 per month—or about $1.85 per person per meal. That doesn’t go far, especially in a city like D.C., where living costs are high and many low-income families don’t have ready access to a major grocery store.

    I’m beating the drum on my blog for a significant increase in food stamp benefits and also for a poverty measure that would reflect geographic differences in cost of living.